The East Bay Is Invading a Hesitant Hollywood
The 76th Golden Globe Awards aired Sunday night and reports indicate (full disclosure: I had zero interest in watching) the evening was full of scandal, awkwardness and some Fiji Water girl photo bomb situation – really nothing out of the ordinary for an event where Hollywood elite gather to congratulate themselves. But one notable difference was a large Bay Area presence in room, the East Bay to be specific.
One film set in Oakland, “Black Panther” was nominated for pretty hefty awards and although the film was basically snubbed for the shiny statues, the nomination made it apparent that there is a place in Hollywood for stories coming out of the Town. However, the snubbing of two other brilliant Oakland-based films makes it apparent that there is still much work to be done.
“Blindspotting” stars two locals, Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, who also wrote the story about life in Oakland. Diggs comes from Oakland himself but attended Berkeley High with Casal – the two lived together in Oakland with other roommates sharing a $1200 apartment, petty cash by today’s standards. The longtime creative partners and friends tried to tackle issues of race, police brutality and post-incarceration survival with parole violation risks lurking around every corner.
Diggs lived four blocks from Fruitvale Station when Oscar Grant was killed – experiences like that helped shape the story they told through their own lenses. In an interview with Variety Magazine, Diggs said: “The best way to make a piece about something like race is to understand that you’re not an authority on the subject. The thing we are an authority on is our vision of what Oakland is, so we let that dictate everything.”
“Black Panther” hits a lot of the same notes, but does so with a beautiful fantasy full of color and hope, focusing not just on what things are but what they can be. Still, Ryan Coogler, another Berkeley native, brings tough issues that play a part in defining Oakland to the mainstream consciousness, while simultaneously providing locals with an enormous sense of pride. The reality-based pieces of the story are told with the vibe of what Oakland is and from the historical perspective of what Oakland has been.
But no, it had nothing to do with the Black Panther Party, which was also born in Oakland. However, the other Berkeley native in the room Sunday night, Andy Samberg, took the opportunity as co-host to shine light on the lesser-discussed aspects of the BPP. During the monologue, he referenced the FBI’s framing and execution of party members and although it was an awkwardly delivered “joke” that obviously confused Coogler at first, it was pretty indicative of a Berkeley upbringing, one that prides itself on educating students about the realities of history often missing in school textbooks. It was also pretty damn Berkeley of him to stir that kind of political shit up in an unpredictable setting, which sometimes makes serious history and sometimes results in the shoving of one’s foot in one’s mouth. The jury is split on Samberg’s joke, but you can’t deny that his perspective and balls comes directly from growing up here at home.
Making up the third big film hailing from Oakland in 2018 is Boots Riley’s psychedelic take on racial inequality, “Sorry To Bother You.” The Riley film also tackles tough shit, but his story is spun like a beautiful assault with comedic relief that helps viewers digest very serious underlying messages.
What is truly amazing about the three films is how each one is set in the same place, touches on related subject matter and yet are so incredibly different, from each other and from anything else being made right now. The trio drips with unique perspective and creativity and even as they travel different roads, they stay true to the story of a beautiful and complex city that deserves its place in history and in Hollywood. The infiltration of the East Bay in mainstream movies and on star-studded stages is slow, but it is definitely happening…like a train pulling in, loaded up with a new way of thinking that feels like home to us, because it is.