Oakland in Their Bones, and in Their Films

For the first time in the city’s long history as a cultural wellspring, it is fertile ground for filmmakers like the writer-stars of “Blindspotting.” What took so long?

Comments: 38

  1. Well-heeled Brown-graduate actor Daveed trying to play a working class hero just seems like it’s going to come off fake.

    I hope I’m wrong.

  2. It's where they're from. It's easy to hate a place you moved to, it's not so easy to hate the place you came from.

  3. Still cannot make out the connection between graffiti and this article .... but I can say that "Black Panther's" only attribute is that it employed many black actors. It is not a statement of any kind about any empowerment outside of the empowerment of a Hollywood blockbuster that is sure to see sequels. It's also not very good. There -- I said it! It ain't no "Get Out!" It should not be equated with making a social statement -- it's just another super hero movie this time with black cast instead of a white one, and that's a good thing for the diversity of the workplace.

  4. BP is meant to depict a technologically advanced African nation. It's meant to show Africans (black people) as capable of nation-building, technology, self-governance, and diplomacy. Get Out shows black people as victims. Is that empowering? My main problem with BP's vision is that their king still had to engage in physical fighting to earn his position. It was also a dynastic monarchy and not a democracy. It was a dynastic monarchy maintained by physical superiority

    I still don't get how Get Out was about race or racism. By the end of that movie, I felt like the race of those kidnapped was mostly incidental.

  5. You should probably go to a library or local bookstore and read. Read a few books about African Americans, or browse a few history books about race and racism in these United States. Although it might be too late for you to fully comprehend the effects (and the "business") of racism in this country, reading AND observing AND interacting with folks who don't look like you might be a heady beginning.

  6. Mr. Casal had a guess. “I see a neighborhood screaming, ‘You can’t erase me,’” he said. “The rebellion of graffiti sometimes is to shout, ‘I’m here. Don’t forget that I’m here.’ It’s putting your name on things when you’re being swept over.

    But don't we WANT to erase it? I mean, I don't see many redeeming qualities on display. I might feel pity for the displaced, but I never feel admiration for their world. Isn't it the filmmakers job to make us feel that admiration?

  7. A spoken-word savant?

  8. Oakland is a great, beautiful, diverse, vibrant American city.

  9. What is a spoken-word savant? Never heard of such a thing. Is this the way that someone tries to distinguish themselves with a claim to something special? I guess it's right up there with folks who call themselves "futurists" as if they had some special crystal ball that sees into the future.

  10. If you were familiar with the arts, specifically spoken-language poetry, you would know. It refers to someone who is uniquely gifted in a style of poetic speaking that is near muscial in its rhythm and cadence. I've seen Mr. Casal perform on YouTube and he's amazing.

  11. Mocking things you don't understand is the surest way to make yourself look like a fool. You're on the internet, you could look these things up, Wikipedia has an entire article on Futurism and it's got nothing to do with literally seeing the future. The article provided a link to Mr. Casal's spoken word. But for some reason you choose to come up in the comments and make sure everyone knows you have no idea what you're talking about. Good one, bruh.

  12. I guess that's because you don't know much about him other than that he went to Brown.

  13. Many moons ago (in the mid '80's), as a working artist I had to leave Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley due to rising rents and shifted gears to an old furniture factory building in downtrodden Fruitvale. It was a rough hood. Now it's much nicer. I guess that's not a positive thing to some who don't truly recall the inherent dangers of living and working in the bad, old Oakland days. Why do some want to romanticize it? It was extremely dangerous, dirty and filled with multiple daily homicides.

  14. Add to the list of Oakland-based films and filmmakers--Kicks directed by Justin Tipping.

  15. And another great Oakland-based film not mentioned is Licks by Jonathan Singer-Vine. It won several film festival awards and is available on Amazon. Truly inspiring. And this came out before the other films mentioned in this article.

  16. For all the Oakland references in the Black Panther, the credits indicate that it was filmed in Atlanta. No Oakland locations - seems a shame.

  17. Casal comes off very badly at the end of the piece, claiming with literally zero evidence that a) the tenant in their former apartment is not from the neighborhood and b) that his refusal to speak to people oddly lingering in his driveway means that he doesn't care about the neighborhood.

    Furthermore, if Casal and Diggs want to play the authenticity card -- that they're from "this neighborhood" in West Oakland and have some claim to it that newcomers can never have -- maybe they should actually be from West Oakland. Instead Diggs grew up in posher areas: "I grew up in California in The Bay Area. Oakland, Albany, and El Cerrito if we want to be specific. Pops always lived in Oakland, Moms moved around the Bay Area as she finished up her degree at UC Berkeley."

  18. I'm sorry, but when Daveed was born we lived on 77th Ave below International Avenue (was E. 14th St. then) for several years. It was far from posh. I am his mom. We then moved to North Oakland by Children's Hospital (also not posh) until the years when we lived in UCB student housing while I was in school (and few would call that posh).

  19. This is an absolutely awesome, classic, mom move. 100 points!

  20. As an Oakland boy I am bemused by the cool cat imagery of this article. But let's get our facts straight. Oakland did not become "a center for African-American liberation in the early 20th century".. Henry J. Kaiser needed cheap African-American labor for his Liberty shipyards during the Second World War. White flight and southern Black immigration is what built the Oakland that was briefly, from about 1945 to 1995, a center of Black resistance to White oppression, as Oakland power structures such as politics and the police remained White -- while most of its citizens were Black. Cities change and Oakland is not immune. What's lost with Oakland's gentrification and White immigration is the incredible diversity of the city I grew up in during the sixties and seventies, the neighborhoods like mine where my parents didn't even have working locks on their doors for decades, and an Oakland vibe only those who lived then can recall now. What's happily buried is the insane violence that plagued certain neighborhoods, horrible high schools that were factories of failure, nasty, fascistic police, and a certain reverse racism that marked some of us for life. It wasn't easy being a White boy walking down some of Oaklands mean streets in the seventies. Oh -- and Kwik Way! Let's not mourn that place, although many Oaklanders perversely do so.

    On the whole, though, my Oakland was more good than bad. I look forward to seeing more attempts to memorialize that place at that time.

  21. I lived in San Francisco for 40 years—nearly all of my adult life—and didn't really spend much time in the East Bay (except to attend concerts at The Greek Theatre in Berkeley) until about 12 years ago when two of my closest friends moved to Emeryville, a little town nestled up against San Francisco Bay with Berkeley north and east of it and Oakland south and east of it. One of the things I have loved about spending time in the East Bay is not just how incredibly ethnically diverse it is, but how much racial mingling there is. San Francisco has people from all over the world, but there's a tendency toward enclaves without a lot of non-transactional overlap. I go out to eat in Emeryville or Oakland, and there are loads of groups of friends and/or family who are not ethnically all the same. I love it!

  22. Oakland is a unique place because the city government is totally apathetic and broken, yet the people still manage to do beautiful things in spite of it. Maybe because of this, most everyone who has ever called Oakland home, truly feels it's 'their own'... All 400,000 of its residents are uniquely protective of its identity, and the personal contributions they have made, which are often really fleeting in the long scheme of things. It's just that way, and it's always been that way. I want to remind all the Oaklanders, past and present, to view this movie with an openness. Let go of whether it's the "correct" Oakland and watch it for its artistry and performance and subjectivity. (That's what I'll be doing, anyway)

  23. "Geographically isolated on the east side of San Francisco Bay"? Oakland is defined by major freeways that connect N. California and S. California. Please use you words more carefully.

  24. Oakland was once seemingly damned by Gertrude Stein as having "no there there." Yet Oakland today is anything but that, instead possessed of a urban complexity, it is a mix of time, culture, race and creativity. This is the essence of a vibrant city life.

    Oakland was once a sidelight to the big bright towered city across the bay. However, that other city today has lost its radiance. It has become a city in search of itself, it is part banker's bauble, part tourist's trinket, it is flowered by a scaffolded emptiness, ghosting past neighborhoods and erasing ethnic character. By contrast, Oakland's grit, brewed in slow growth now reveals its rooted past, dynamic character and multi-demensional future.

  25. The meaning of that old Gertrude Stein story has been lost to time. Just like the old neighborhood in Oakland she was referring to. Many years after moving away, Stein returned to Oakland only to find that everything she remembered - houses, buildings - had been torn down - no longer there - thus "there's no there there."

  26. Gertrude Stein's remark is misrepresented here and almost everywhere. She wrote that after she visited the place where she'd lived in East Oakland, which had disappeared, or been "replaced," because of . . . wait for it . . . gentrification. So there was no there there anymore.

  27. Best reply to a NYT comment ever, Mother.

  28. What right do they have to knock on a stranger's door then Mr Casal disparages the guy for his skin color and alleged demographic? I imagine Mr Casal, a latino, has heard disparagement from darker latinos for his lighter tone. Anyway, the resident has every right to be in the dwelling if he's paying the rent. And living in LA and staying at The Claremont Hotel (I happened to be born less than a mile from the hotel) and being driven around in a chauffered SUV? Keepin' it real!

  29. In the midst of a great read about the wonderful cultural offerings and opportunities for artists, filmmakers, directors (& the like), I find it rather interesting that the most significant comment you offer is to find fault with Casal for knocking on the door of a resident and attempting to have a convo with the resident. I think your protestations are less about the suspicions surrounding his "intrusive" behavior and more about your disdain for Oakland artists making cultural noise in the city while eschewing larger geographical & more "glamorous" venues.

  30. I lived in Oakland for over 30 years. It’s been fun and wonderful. Oakland is an outstanding example of Americans living together while reflecting incredible diversity of thought and ethnic origins. I don’t love all the changes I see taking place but it’s a dynamic city and none of those ever stay the same. Oaktown rocks!

  31. Tech gentrification is happening all over the Bay Area in every working class neighorbood of every ethnicity. My sister in Redwood City is being squeezed out by tech gentrifiers. The Bay Area used to be great for the working class. This was the case back when nerds were inventing things in their garages. Nerds can't afford homes with garages anymore. The next generation of innovators will have to come from Bakersfield or Sacramento.

  32. West Oakland is undergoing rapid gentrification. Rapacious development and clueless newcomers harm the neighborhood. Given the gravity of this reality, the anecdotal lead about the Ford Go Bikes is lazy. These bikes are not the issue and far from the best example of blatant and harmful gentrification in the neighborhood. Three blocks away from the Boys and Girls Club on the north side of McClymonds is an abandoned residence that has been covered in graffiti over the last few years since it had been abandoned. In a different context this could have served as an equally lazy anecdote about blight in West Oakland for a New York reporter - not representative of the reality of this community! How about featuring some actual kids of color, residents, up front and contrasting their upbringing today with those of the artists? Without this gentrification becomes an abstract backdrop here in this article, a politics, and an attitude.

    The reporter missed a big aspect of current Oakland dynamics: the questions of who is authentically Oakland and what does that mean today, and how does that shape relative power? The artists are representations of this complex reality. I read this piece and thought: these artists may be from here but where have they been? This matters in a conversation about their art.

  33. I owned three homes in Oakland since 1981 and supported the community thinking it would eventually make it. I left two years ago after my neighbors’ front door was kicked down and they were held hostage. As a retired single woman, I could not deal with that prospect. A city becomes a “cultural wellspring” only after fact and is so identified by news reporters who never tried to live there during the ugly times. People in Oakland bemoan gentrification as hurting residents. Sure, I have friends who are renters now priced out the rental market. But, I have an equal number of longstanding Oakland homeowners in my age group who have funded their retirement by selling their bungalow for a ridiculous to hipsters and leaving. That fact deserves some equal press as a social good coming out of gentrification that has benefitted very regular people’s who stuck it out in Oakland for many years, and now see some benefit.

  34. It may be uncomfortable to admit, but the beginning of gentrification in a neighborhood is when artists move in.

  35. All over the country neighborhoods change hands. They did it before and they're doing it again. Great thing is it's a big country so you're free to move if you don't like it. If you hate crime, move. If you hate hipsters, move.

  36. "Gentrification" -- a word meant as a pejorative. So, either people, almost always white, with more money than the impoverished eking out a miserable living in a slum stay out and the slum persists, or that neighborhood is improved to the point where the current residents can no longer afford to live there. What a choice.

    I lived in Oakland in the 1990's. I never "gentrified" anywhere. But even so I resent the implication, that it is an evil, perhaps racist, action that per se ruins the lives of those currently occupying the affected area. Those lives are already in ruins. Is it to their advantage -- to the city's advantage -- that slums be preserved as just that?

  37. I Spy? Beverly Hills Cop? It's just recycled melodrama made for today.

  38. There goes the neighborhood. Thanks NYT