Mexican-American film and music video director Carlos López Estrada attended the Sundance Film Festival this year with two projects: "Blindspotting," a feature film about two best friends who encounter racism and gentrification in the Bay Area, and "High & Mighty," a web comedy about a Latinx stoner who develops superpowers through his favorite vice. Estrada discussed these projects, and their connections to broader conversations about Black and Brown representation in the entertainment industry, in an interview with Remezcla yesterday (February 5).
"Blindspotting," which Variety reports was acquired by Lionsgate for distribution at this year’s festival, partners Estrada with co-writers and stars Daveed Diggs (“Hamilton”) and Rafael Casal (“Ricochet in Reverse”). The Bay Area natives play best friends who struggle to survive Oakland’s skyrocketing housing prices while working as movers, which puts them in touch with the city’s newfound stratified wealth.
Estrada said he met the two stars when directing music videos for Diggs’ hip hop group, Clipping. He also shot showcases of their joint rap and theater workshop, Bars. Estrada said that both experiences influenced "Blindspotting" and its prose style. “[The film] has a lot of musical elements, it has a lot of rap, it has a lot of spoken word and heightened language," he told Remezcla. “I think all these projects that we had been doing through the years were preparing us for everything that ‘Blindspotting’ was going to require."
Estrada also said that he identified with Diggs and Casal’s story—which Variety said incorporates plotlines about police violence and mass incarceration (Diggs plays a formerly incarcerated man)—as a fellow "outsider." “I grew up speaking very little English, and I understand what it feels like to look around and to know that you don’t necessarily belong, and to have to find my way," he explained. "I think the movie, even though it’s very specific about Oakland and very specific about the Black experience, it’s a movie about identity. It’s a movie about a man trying to find his place in his world and his city and his community, and I think a lot of us relate to that, especially as minorities."
“High & Mighty," which stars Jorge Diaz ("Jane the Virgin") as a party-loving man from East Los Angeles who discovers he can deflect gunshots while under the influence, is much more comical than "Blindspotting." Estrada still found thematic similarities in the projects, each of which features leading casts of color.
“[Each project’s protagonists are] trying to find their place in the city, both trying to figure out how to overcome hardships that they’ve been presented with, and how to function in the world that they live in," he described. "Even though one is a straight-on comedy, and the other one is a little bit more of a drama, I feel like emotionally there’s a lot of intersecting places for both of them, which is funny because the writers and production companies are so far removed, but both shows start with the lead character being let go from prison, and explain what the terms of their freedom are."
Estrada discussed the importance of his presence as a Latinx director in an entertainment world that rarely sees people like him. "Even though it feels like we’re still in the shadows, we are so less and less, and hopefully soon we’ll turn our head and we’ll realize that we’re not in the shadows anymore, and we’ll realize that we’re getting the same kinds of opportunities and we’re telling the same kinds of stories, without them feeling like they’re a specialty category in the film world," he said.
"Now with the political climate, being Mexican-American gives me a certain responsibility," he added. "I’m happy to be able to work on two projects where both the cast and crews are predominantly people of color, and each of them are just trying to do more work and represent the communities that they belong to, and just make sure that our voices are being heard."