Hes the superstar of Tv and Broadway whose new cinema Blindspotting unveils the evils of gentrification. The performer discusses protest, prejudice and the neo-Nazi president
Daveed Diggs, born poor and “very happy” in Oakland, California, says his Jewish mom and African-American father informed him early on that he was going to be policed differently than many of his friends. Regardless of the success he has had of late- including his double-star turn as both Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in Hamilton’s original Broadway cast – the 36 -year-old said today dread is still “always there”. Growing up, he was never as aware of the imbalance as when he was around some of his more reckless white friends, a burden he compares to” a weight on my shoulders, a kind of disability that wasn’t shared by them “.
” I got pulled over the first time, five days after I got my driver’s licence, I was 16 ,” says Diggs.” My auto was surrounded by four police cars, one of them walking up to the door with his hand on his gun. Because I had forgotten to turn my illuminations on and I was driving at night .” Over three years in his 20 s, he was pulled over 36 hours.” Two days before I left LA to move to New York to work on Hamilton, I got pulled off of my bike and thrown up against a fence by the officers who believed I fitted a description. These events keep happening. It doesn’t change. And so you live with it .”
This ever-present feeling- a kind of PTSD, he says, an awareness that your life is worth less than others- informs his new film Blindspotting, co-written by and starring Diggs and Rafael Casal. Blurring all slapstick/ drama borders, the film’s nuanced exploration of racial and class divides is set in the increasingly gentrified Oakland. Collin( Diggs) spends his final days on probation desperately trying to avoid difficulty , not helped at all by his white, grills-wearing best friend Miles( Casal ), or by witnessing a black human killed by a white cop.
Diggs exudes urgency as a traumatised man scrabbling to hold it all together. There is a vitality about him, which can also be heard on record with his rap group Clipping; he’s the same when in interview mode: always alert, switched on. At points in Blindspotting, Collin and Miles express themselves via spoken poem. It is intrinsic to the movie and to Diggs who- long before Hamilton brought hip-hop showtunes to Broadway- battled in his school’s slam verse competitions.
” When I started, it was a route to present my ideas in a way that people would listen to ,” he says.” I was a poor black kid from east Oakland; nobody had any reason to listen to me. Historically , no one listened to me. But all of a sudden with this trick of stimulating it sound pretty, everybody was not just hearing you but aroused to hear what you were going to say next. That’s a very powerful thing for a kid to learn .”
Spoken verse devoted birth to Blindspotting, but its journey from conception to fully formed movie was a long and complex one. In 2007, Casal- then a twice National Youth Poetry Slam finalist champion- was contacted by cinema producer Jess Calder, who had considered him perform on YouTube and guessed his talents could translate to movie. In January 2009, Calder and her co-producer husband Keith screened Thunder Soul, their documentary about a high-school jazz and funk band, for the Congressional Black Caucus at Obama’s inauguration. They asked Casal to perform, but he couldn’t and recommended his best friend and collaborator Diggs, “whos” Washington DC to soak up the presidential proceedings.
” Just off of find the movie, he freestyled for 20 minutes ,” says Calder of Diggs.” Incredible, in-depth thematic content about the importance of music education and being able to save troubled youths all around the world .” Diggs had expended some of his 20 s teaching rap to kids in school, helping them to find a voice. He was just paying it forward, he says.” He totally blew us away ,” says Calder.
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