From “Soul Food” to “Clueless,” there have been successful film-to-TV adaptations, but none have higher stakes than “Blindspotting.”
Based on director Carlos López Estrada’s electrifying 2018 debut feature of the same name, which chronicled three days in life of Oakland, California, resident Collin (Daveed Diggs) and his best friend Miles (Rafael Casal), Starz’s new dramedy series shifts the lens to Ashley (Emmy winner Jasmine Cephas Jones), Miles’ girlfriend and the mother of his 6-year-old son, Sean (Atticus Woodward).
Picking up after the events in the film — in which the formerly incarcerated Collin was finishing his final days of probation even as Miles’ problems threatened to put him back in prison — Ashley returns home just as Miles is being arrested for drug possession with intent to distribute.
From there, the life the young couple had been working toward begins to unravel: Miles is sent to Oakland County prison, and Ashley and Sean are forced to move in with Miles’ mother, Rainey (Helen Hunt), and his younger sister, Trish (Jaylen Barron), a sex worker with whom Ashley has a poor relationship.
The series is about motherhood, the sacrifices Black women make and the challenges of trying to be your full self while parenting another human being.
The movie “Blindspotting” was a dynamic and necessary commentary on race, police brutality and manhood. The series, on the other hand, gives voice to the rage, pain, sadness and even joy experienced by the women whose loved ones are directly caught up in the system we saw in the movie, all through the eyes of one woman who is trying to figure it all out. Whereas the film was about manhood, the series is about motherhood, the sacrifices Black women make and the challenges of trying to be your full self while parenting another human being — and particularly a little Black boy.
While Estrada’s film starts with a bang, the TV series takes a few episodes to find its footing.
For one, although fans of the film will recognize many characters in the series (including Collin’s mother — Mama Nancy, played by Margo Hall — who often acts as Sean’s caregiver), the series is so much about Ashley that there are several new characters, the backstories for which aren’t always necessary or cohesive. The constant tension (and screaming matches) between Ashley and Trish are especially jarring, since the origin of their disdain for one another is given short shrift.
Yet, as aggravating as the ongoing feud between Ashley and Trish is to viewers, their frustrations with life feel very real. Ashley has become a single parent overnight, but that doesn’t stop the micro- and macroaggressions she endures as a concierge at an expensive hotel. Meanwhile, Trish is striving for complete autonomy over her career and body, but, just when she thinks she has a grasp on it, it’s snatched out from under her.
Though they can’t see it because they are so busy railing against one another, Trish and Ashley are both in search of the same thing that women — white and, in particular, Black — are rarely offered in society: control over their own lives. Since neither woman has another outlet to express their frustrations, they seemingly choose to target each other.
There have been successful film-to-TV adaptations, but none have higher stakes than “Blindspotting.”
Despite some standout earlier moments, “Blindspotting” finally comes together in the sixth episode — and it’s magnetic. That episode, titled “The Secret’s Out” and written by “Jinn” director Nijla Mu’min, focuses on Ashley’s decision to finally explain to Sean that his father is in jail. However, instead of completely centering the storyline on the conversation between the mother and son, it becomes a complex and layered episode about colorism, Blackness, loyalty, loss and parenthood — one that opens with Mama Nancy trying to get Sean to watch a “Black movie” instead of his beloved “Paddington 2.”
One of the most brilliantly written episodes of television in recent years ends in Sean’s bedroom as Ashley reads him Melissa Higgins’ children’s book “The Night Dad Went to Jail.”
While “Blindspotting” is initially disorienting as viewers try to find their way through a world they thought they knew through Collin’s and Miles’ eyes, but now have to walk through with Ashley’s, the writing and acting are always impactful. The choices to break the fourth wall by having Ashley voice her internal monologue to the audience, to imagine conversations with Miles and to incorporate dance sequences — though stylistically different than the way the movie used music to do the same — are interesting, though not always seamless.
Still, the decision to turn the narrative over to Ashley not only expands the world of “Blindspotting” but also offers a Black woman a powerful voice, no matter how imperfect or misunderstood it may be.