Exclusive: Rafael Casal Talks About Bringing the 'Blindspotting' Series to Starz

A TV show based on Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs' 2018 indie film 'Blindspotting' is coming to Starz this summer, starring Jasmine Cephas Jones.

Rafael Casal Blindspotting Starz

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Rafael Casal Blindspotting Starz

It’s not every day that a movie gets its own TV series spinoff. But this summer, the 2018 indie film Blindspotting written by, produced by, and starring Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, is being reimagined as a show on Starz. The new trailer shows that the series picks up right where the film left off, but with a brand-new perspective. The show will take place six months after the film ended, but instead of focusing on Diggs’ character Collin and Casal’s character Miles, the story will follow Miles’ girlfriend Ashley, played by Hamilton’s Jasmine Cephas Jones

The movie tells the story of Collin trying to survive his last three days on probation so he can resume his normal life prior to his time in jail. In those three days, his friendship with his impulsive and volatile best friend Miles makes him feel like his freedom is in danger. While the film shows how the prison system and probation can have a negative and lasting effect on people, the show will focus on how incarceration affects more than just the person who committed the offense. The series’ first trailer shows Miles getting arrested for a drug-related crime, leaving his girlfriend and son, Sean, behind to fend for themselves. Ashley and Sean are forced to move in with Miles’ mother, Rainey (Helen Hunt), and his sister, Trish (Jaylen Barron) to survive.

Complex spoke to Casal about the natural choice to team up with Starz, reprising his role as Miles, and about their decision to continue the story but from Ashley’s perspective. Casal and Diggs reunited with Jess Wu Calder and Keith Calder of Snoot Entertainment (One Night in Miami) as executive producers on the series after they all spent almost a decade working to bring the feature film to life. Diggs and Casal did not plan to continue this story but when it was time to, they made sure they aligned themselves with the right team and actively sought out a Black woman executive to be their project’s showrunner. STARZ also recently launched its #TakeTheLead initiative, which is the company’s comprehensive effort to deepen its existing commitment to narratives by, about, and for women and underrepresented audiences. “Starz was one of the only places we met with, with Black women executives who were interested in the show. Kathryn Tyus-Adair over at Starz really was the champion of the show,” Casal told Complex. “Just politically for us, it was really important to have, if possible, a Black woman executive overseeing the show, and that was a big point for us. Also, Starz has a big reputation for letting creatives dream big and support them in that. Right when we got to Starz, they were getting vocal about wanting to support more stories about people of color, about women, and not only what ends up being on screen but also how a thing gets made.” 

Blindspotting Starz

They had the liberty to hire a cast and production team that was diverse and reflected the story they were trying to tell, without compromising their art—and that was the only way they would do it. “We actually had no desire to turn it into a show. We loved it as the indie film that it was and loved the reception that it got. But we sold the film to Lionsgate and they saw a TV show out of it that we didn’t see and they asked us to come in and talk about it,” the actor said. “For us, we just thought about what we felt was missing from the movie. The only way we would ever do this show is if we could follow Ashley into her world and meet a bunch of other characters that didn’t get to be a part of the Bay Area story that the movie was trying to tell. We assumed they would be really opposed to this. We thought they would want the thing that starred me and Daveed. But instead, they were super receptive and they love Jasmine Cephas Jones and they believe in her the way we do and they said, ‘If that’s the way that you want to tell the story, we are game.’ And so, we started dreaming into this world that was centered around her life and her community and went from there.”

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The longtime friends and co-creators’ love for Oakland is evident in both the movie and the show. There are countless movies centered around New York, Los Angeles, Miami, etc., that so vividly represent those cities and their people, and they set out to do the same for Oakland and the Bay Area with Blindspotting. “People from Northern California have longed to see the complex reality of their lives on screen in a way that other major cities and areas have felt seen. We’ve always longed for that,” Casal says. “The Bay Area, Oakland in particular, but really the entire Bay Area is such a strange and complicated place worthy of a bunch of stories, not just this one, but a plethora of stories. We felt like a television show was another way to crack that door open a little bit more and give people a window into this very strange place that we grew up [in] and that it would create curiosity for more and more stories, which I think is also my responsibility to the place that we call home.” 

Casal added, “I think we want to feel worthy of magic. These small magical moments in our everyday lives. The communities I come from, the neighborhoods I grew up in, their magic. They’re undeniably magical places. I want to see it told that way. There would have been another version of this show that was just like, ‘Let’s make a grimy, hood ass, Oakland show that people think they want from their perception of what Oakland is.’ There’s that grimy show. That’ll be a part of the show, too. It is the hood, but it’s more than that. We were like, we can make the obvious show or we could make the show that we’ve always wanted, the way that we’ve wanted people to see the place that we grew up.”

Blindspotting Starz

Whether it was the Oakland community or people who also have loved ones in the prison system, Casal and Diggs wanted to create a show that helped people whose stories aren’t often told feel seen. “We knew we wanted to get away from Collin and Miles’ story. We felt like we told the most interesting three days of their friendship. What we started to talk about was that our villain in the movie is the police and is the prison industrial complex and that those two things are complicated in themselves and we can’t fully tackle those things in a 90-minute film,” Casal said. “But in a television show, we can show the broader impact of systems that are omnipresent in our lives and visible and invisible ways and the resilience and people’s joy and humor and love to combat those omnipresent forces.”

“We’d seen a bunch of shows about how fucking hard prison is and how crazy it is and then we’ve seen the flip of that on Orange Is the New Black. We know also how funny prison can be and watch people wrestle with that backdrop. But I think what becomes far more relatable is when you have a country that has one of the biggest prison populations in the world by a large margin. What you also have is a mass of a society that is impacted by having incarcerated family members and friends and sons and daughters and cousins and parents. That means there is this collected experience that is worth talking about,” the actor said. “We wanted to tell a really small story that is immediately double, triple-layered about, what does it mean for our family and chosen family to endure when a loved one is essentially disappeared? How do you redefine who you are? How do you temporarily single-parent y’all’s child? How do you engage with that person’s family when they’re never present? How do you maintain a loving relationship through glass and concrete? These are questions that people all around the world, but specifically Americans, have to wrestle with every day, so it just felt so relevant.”

Casal is right. Prison rates in the United States are the world’s highest, with the number of incarcerated people reaching 1.8 million in mid-2020. “When we look at the show and what the show is asking you to do is to look at guilt in a different way, to look at family in a different way, to look at what loyalty means, and to look at the prison system in a different way. We’re a punitive justice system and it takes humanizing the people that we lock behind bars and the families that it affects to hopefully start questioning, ‘Is this how we should be dealing with problems in our society?’ No other country is doing this except, I don’t know, North Korea, maybe?” he says with a laugh. “No one else is so obsessed with erasing people.” Casal says he has friends who are serving 30-year to life sentences and he has experience with visitations and maintaining those friendships while they are away. “Going to visit those people, family and friends, and childhood friends, there’s no roadmap for it,” he said. “There’s no empathy in the public domain. Everything is like fear-mongering, but I just think it’s really exciting and relevant to have a show that tries to give it its humanity while also giving it its levity and due seriousness.”

In the movie, Miles was lively, hilarious, at times chaotic and violent but so entertaining—and viewers will get to see that and more this time around as the show dives deeper into his home life. “The show is much more about Ashley’s perspective on the world and she sees Miles totally different. That’s her partner of 12 years. That’s the person that she loves. That’s the person that’s crazy with everybody else but not with her and their son,” Casal says. “We get to see Miles a different way, which was fun for me, at least in the show, to get to play Miles a different way. We’re all different around our different folks. We talk to our mom a different way than we talk to our friends, a different way than we talk to our romantic partners, a different way than we talk to children. I think a lot of times TV and film want you to play those all the same, but I think it’s really exciting to show that we are different people to different people and get to enter this story as Miles as a slightly different dude. Also, it’s six months after the movie and so that had an impact on him and Ashley as well.”

The Blindspotting series is unlike the movie in many ways, but Diggs and Casal are still committed to incorporating their love for music, their culture, and their hometown into their latest project. “The movie is mostly a comedy and so a lot of the tent poles of the movie are about world-building and establishing a sense of humor and establishing the way that music and culture and hyper-specificity play into giving context to our main characters. And the same is true for the show,” Casal said. “Ashley lives in a similar context or adjacent context to the guys from the film. She’s running around in the same neighborhood. We’re bringing in so much of the same sonic, musical landscape that we did with the film to bring people into a sense of place. Daveed and I are really obsessed with this idea that hyper-specificity breeds universality, so we tried to make the show as Bay as fucking possible at all times and ground it in something that we know is true. What we’ve learned between switching from film to television is that once you’ve built a world, you can take it anywhere. I think we’re just excited to see where it can go from here.”

Blindspotting the series premieres on June 13 on Starz. Check out the exclusive first trailer below.

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