East Bay-bred Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs, writers and stars of “Blindspotting” — a funny and relevant new Oakland-set buddy dramedy opening today about two friends, one white, one black — were over the moon last week at the local premiere of the movie at the Grand Lake Theatre.
“It was the best ever,” says Diggs, a rapper and actor best known for his Tony-winning turn in “Hamilton,” who adds, “My mentors were there: my high school teacher, my seventh grade coach,” as well as “so many” friends, including the dozens of local musicians who contributed the 38 songs on the soundtrack.
For Casal, looking down the theater’s rows and seeing his “12 boys” in the house, the men who largely inspired the movie’s characters, was “massively” moving.
“Blindspotting” was 17 years in the making, a project started long before “Hamilton,” when Casal and Diggs, award-winning spoken word artists who both went to Berkeley High School, hooked up with Keith and Jess Calder, young producers looking for a project.
At first, they admittedly didn’t know what they were doing, “pretending” to write a screenplay, huddled over a laptop. But ideas for the script solidified after Oscar Grant was fatally shot by police in 2009 in Oakland (the basis for the movie “Fruitvale Station”), and after they noticed an infusion of new people gentrifying the neighborhood.
Those realities set into motion the story of Collin (Diggs), a black guy about to complete his probationary period, who witnesses a white cop shooting a young black man at the film’s beginning; and Miles (Casal), his gun-toting white friend who has a penchant for stirring up trouble.
While the actors’ real-life personalities are not like their characters, Casal says their camaraderie on screen reflects how they “dialed into the things they don’t have to work on.”
Some of the funniest scenes are when the guys, who work as movers, banter as they drive around town in a big Commander Moving van. The vehicle was supplied by a real Oakland company, whose slogan “excellence in relocation” was much better than what they wrote, they say.
When financing for the movie at last came through, it was shot in 22 days in 2017 — the only time Diggs had free — in the East Bay.
With authenticity being a prime concern, most of the film was filmed in Oakland. (Doesn’t everybody know that house near the West Oakland BART station — where Collin’s mom, played by the excellent Margo Hall — lives?, Diggs asks.)
There were two exceptions. The scene in which the cop shoots the teen was filmed in San Leandro, and a scene at a Kwik Way burger joint (which hilariously serves beef only upon request) had to be shot at the Pup Hut in Richmond (dressed up to look like the defunct Kwik Way). Diggs says they tried and tried to shoot in Oakland, but no appropriate places were available, not Caspers, nor a Quarter Pound burger spot, which kept being robbed for its copper wiring.
IF YOU GO
Starring: Rafael Casal, Daveed Diggs, Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Margo Hall
Written by: Rafael Casal, Daveed Diggs
Directed by: Carlos Lopez Estrada
Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes