Tag Archives: Carlos Lopez Estrada

West Coast Story


by George Wolf

Near the end of director Carlos López Estrada’s impressive 2018 debut feature Blindspotting, Daveed Diggs unleashes a blisteringly beautiful rap monologue. Estrada showcases the raw, extended wordplay to lay bare a character’s journey and a film’s soul.

Now, after joining the directing team on Disney’s enchanting Raya and the Last Dragon last year, Estrada returns to solo work – as well as the streets – with Summertime, an uplifting celebration of urban poets “spitting that emotional fire” amid an interconnected assemblage of L.A. stories.

Anewbyss & Rah (Bryce Banks & Austin Antoine) are a rap duo trying to build a following. Gordon (Gordon Ip) is tired of working in a burger joint. Brokenhearted Sophia (Maia Mayor) is stalking her ex-boyfriend and finds a kindred spirit in the thoughtful Marquesha (Marquesha Babers). Mila (Mila Cuda) is standing up to a bus riding homophobe while Tyris (Tyris Winter) is just searching for a good cheeseburger and documenting his quest on Yelp.

These are but a few of the many compelling personalities in this magnetic mosaic of poems, images, cultures and identities. Estrada weaves together the work of twenty-six different poets, each one spitting emotional fire to spare.

Anchored proudly in the City of Angels, Summertime drops the beats of a grittier West Coast bookend to In the Heights. There are dreamers of diverse backgrounds here, too, though these are the more openly wounded variety, finding comfort from channeling the hurt into writing.

But as raw as those wounds can get, the performers never abandon the humor, joy and hope that comes from upending conventions about who they are, where they’re from, and what they have to offer.

So many different threads in one 95-minute tour of L.A. probably shouldn’t work this well. Credit Estrada’s balanced vision and his wonderful cast of artists for making sure that stopping, looking, and listening to Summertime is a thoroughly rewarding thing to do.

Men in the Hood


by George Wolf

A film with plenty of things to say and plenty of ways to say them, the biggest knock against Blindspotting might be timing.

It comes on the heels of Sorry to Bother You, sharing some of the same social concerns and brash exuberance, but sometimes wearing its message like an overly heavy coat.

The ambitious script is a promising debut for writers Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, who also star. Diggs (Tony and Grammy Award-winner for Broadway’s Hamilton) plays Colin and Casal (in his first feature) is Miles, two longtime buddies in Oakland working for a neighborhood moving company.

After a stint in county jail, Colin has three days left on his year-long probation, and is desperate not to F it up while hopeful he can maybe get back together with Val (Janina Gavankar). Just when it seems the hot-headed, unpredictable Miles will be Colin’s biggest threat to independence, fate comes calling.

Colin becomes the one eyewitness to a fatal police shooting, which forces him to re-evaluate everything, and everyone, in the life he wants to start over.

Director Carlos Lopez Estrada is also helming his first feature, and this rookie filmmaking trio finds a tighter bullseye than STBU‘s takedown of capitalism itself. Focusing on its two main characters and their longtime home, Blindspotting fires some sharply effective arrows toward police brutality, gentrification, racism, stereotypes and rap.

The director’s tone is sometimes a struggle, moving from stoner comedy a la Jay and Silent Bob to heavy drama and back again, and Estrada’s hand on a few of those dramatic moments can get heavy.

But by the time Diggs unveils the film’s soul in a showstopping, rage-filled finale, Blindspotting reaches a memorable height, becoming both an urgent social comment and an exciting filmmaking debut.