On Monday night at the Angelika Film Center in New York, the cast and crew of the film “Blindspotting” got together for a special screening to talk about Oakland. The film, which cowriters and costars Daveed Diggs — of “Hamilton” and “Black-ish” fame — and Rafael Casal conceived over the course of 10 years, is what the pair have referred to as a “love letter” to the Bay Area city. “Blindspotting” is an examination of the effects of gentrification brought on by the tech boom, and the loss of culture that has led to an all-out class war.
Casal met Diggs at Berkeley High School, an institution that has pumped out a range of successful artists including Andy Samberg, G-Eazy and Colin Tilley. The 32-year-old actor and lyricist said when he and Diggs started writing “Blindspotting,” they lived in West Oakland — an area that has been hit particularly hard by gentrification and has seen major changes to the community over the past decade.
“It’s become somebody else’s property,” he said of the West. “I think West Oakland felt like Ground Zero for the conversation about gentrification. It felt like we had to put the characters of the film in this space where the tensions were the highest and where we had the most landmarks to give them context.”
“Blindspotting” takes place during the three final days of probation for Collin, played by Diggs. His friend Miles (Casal) is a hot-headed, loud-mouthed Oakland native who both supports and causes issues for Collin. Although the plot of the movie centers around gentrification and its aftermath, the theme takes a backseat to the real star of the film: the city of Oakland itself. “Blindspotting” is filled with Easter Eggs for Bay Area natives, with nods to Kwik Way, Santa Rita Jail and the singer Kehlani’s name on the marquee of the Fox Theater in Downtown Oakland.
Diggs noted at the screening that Oakland is finally getting the representation it deserves in the arts and culture arena, with the city’s natives putting out work that highlights its history of ups and downs.
“What we have now are films, novels and a lot of artwork that attempts to show all of the things that we’ve always known were beautiful about Oakland, and being honest about the conflict that’s arising,” he said. “You can’t stop progress, and you can’t stop people from moving in — cities are not in the business of turning down money. The hope is that people will move in and participate in the culture.”
Many of Diggs’ former “Hamilton” costars showed love at the event, including Renée Elise Goldsberry and Anthony Ramos. Also in attendance were Jasmine Cephas Jones, who plays Ashley in the movie; Tina Fey, who paused to take selfies with fans, and Questlove. The drummer of The Roots and “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon paused to chat on the red carpet, his signature Afro pick firmly in place.
Despite the fact that Questlove is just coming off the release of his latest book, “Creative Quest,” he said he’s at work on his fifth book, and is developing a Broadway play about “Soul Train.” The perennially busy musician and artist had even more plans for what’s next.
“My dream is to do something called the ‘Soul Train’ reader. We’re working on the Broadway play right now,” he said. “So hopefully, when that play comes out, I would like to write the ‘Soul Train’ reader, which is a step-by-step, comprehensive piece of me analyzing all 1,100 episodes.
“It’s only nerd stuff.”
He was interrupted by a voice that floated from way down on the red carpet: that of Janina Gavankar, who plays Val in “Blindspotting.”
“Hello, Questlove!” she yelled.
“Hello, Janina Gavankar,” he replied.
“Can you come hang out with me?”
Sliding his arm around Cephas Jones and posing with Diggs, Casal and Gavankar for a photograph, Quest did just that.
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