Wednesday, October 20

Daveed Diggs: ‘Pixar wanted comments from a lot of black people’ | Pixar

meIn his visor and face mask combo, Daveed Diggs looks like a cross between a welder and a highwayman. He peers into his webcam as he walks, offers a “Yo!”, And finds a quiet corner of a Los Angeles studio to sit on, then removes his helmet to reveal spider braids and a black beard. An East Bay T-shirt serves as a reminder that the 38-year-old hails from Oakland, the Bay Area city that provided the backdrop and stunned deadpan sensibility for Blindspotting. That extraordinary film, released in 2018, in which Diggs co-wrote and starred, transformed straight arrow themes (racist police violence, unconscious prejudice, gentrification) into comic vignettes without loss of gravity.

Speak today from the set of TV spinoff series. “It’s the same idea as the movie,” he says. “It’s a comedy in a world that won’t let it be.” Praising Blindspotting on these pages two years ago, Mike McCahill described it as “2018: The Movie,” but sadly there seems little chance that the series will look dated when it hits our screens. “The issue of different policing of poor and dark people is not new in the current resurgence of Black Lives Matter,” says Diggs. “That’s the world we live in. It’s as consistent as ever.”

Diggs in Hamilton.
Diggs in Hamilton. Photograph: AP

The public has had no shortage of Diggs this year. At the start of the pandemic, Disney + streamed a 2016 recording of the Broadway musical Hamilton, originally intended to be released in theaters next year, featuring the arrogant and Tony-winning dual performance of Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette. . Diggs is also the star of Snowpiercer, the Netflix series based on Bong Joon-ho’s post-apocalyptic train thriller (a second season is in the can, with a third shooting next year). He recently played a comically carnal Frederick Douglass in the irreverent abolitionist drama The Good Lord Bird, and next year he will be Sebastian the Crab in the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid. “I really enjoy it,” he says when I mention this eclecticism. “There really isn’t much I hate to do. My taste in everything is always what I hadn’t tried before. “

This month, he appears in Soul, Pixar’s animated fantasy about a music teacher struggling to return to Earth from the afterlife. Diggs’ vocal footprint is minor – he has a scene as a barbershop know-it-all – but his main contribution was as part of a group of “cultural consultants,” which also included musicians Quincy Jones and Questlove.

“It’s the first Pixar movie with a black lead,” he says, “so they wanted feedback on the cultural relevance of a ton of blacks. They would show us character designs and ask, ‘Does it feel like a person you know?’ or ‘Are you offended by this in any way?’ One person said, ‘In the background voices, I didn’t hear anyone who didn’t speak English, and that’s not my experience in New York.’ I thought it was such a bright note! I had not thought of it. It’s buried in the mix, but someone noticed. “

He also participated in feedback sessions, where the material was ruthlessly broken. “I don’t think I can write for Pixar,” he laughs. “They will cut something if it is not working. It is brutal. Nobody cares about anybody’s feelings, they just want to make a great movie. I was a newcomer, so to me it sounded like they were killing babies all over the place. “

Actress and writer Rashida Jones, Quincy’s daughter, who co-wrote Toy Story 4, has called Pixar a place where “women and people of color don’t have the same creative voice.” Diggs believes the studio is trying to remedy that. “It is part of an industry-wide self-examination. Everyone has good intentions, but there are many unconscious biases. If you have no representation in the upper ranks, if there is no color producer at the top, and there are no higher level color writers, then it doesn’t matter what is happening in the writers room. When younger writers of color come up with interesting ideas, forever cut because there is no one at the end of the line who understands the cultural relevance and specificity of those details. In reality, no one is saying, ‘We don’t care if black people or queer people get to see each other in this.’ But that is the result. You don’t know what you don’t know. “

It is a lesson that has carried the Blindspotting series with it. “Our writers’ room was made up almost entirely of women because we wrote for a female lead, and we knew we would lose certain things due to our own blind spots. We also work with as many female directors as we can to control ourselves on those things all the time. “

Diggs is an eloquent speaker – take a look at his 20 minute commencement speech at Brown, his alma mater, for a definitive test, with a knack for juggling light and dark themes. This month, for example, his cutting-edge rap trio Clipping released a tween-pop single, Puppy for Hanukkah, and a sinister, horror-filled new album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned. Typical clues include Pain Everyday, where the descendants of white racists are haunted by the ghosts of lynching victims, and Body on a Pile, which looks at the carnage that followed the massacre of several police officers.

Among his previous songs is The depth, which imagines the babies of drowned pregnant slaves building an underwater world. Why is it horror? From Get Out and The people under the stairs to this year Lovecraft country and His House, so adept at conveying the black experience and black history?

“The best thing about the horror genre is that the age usually identifies what the monster is,” he says. “When you look at Jordan Peele’s work, or any of the things that are popular at the moment, it allows black creators to highlight things that have always been monstrous, and then turn them into physical monsters. They become visually scary, so everyone becomes scared of them. “

Absent from the new album is the single Chapter 319, released on June 16 of this year in response to the murder of George Floyd. Diggs, a rapper famous for his prowess, puts it in the most direct way possible on the track: “Donald Trump is a white supremacist, period / If you vote for him again, you are a white supremacist, period.” The song was written in one day, he tells me, “to play at the protests”; He also breaks one of the band’s self-imposed rules by having Diggs rapping in the first person. “Most of the rap is strictly in the first person, but we always wanted to be able to talk about things without people assuming we were living them.”

Much of Clipping’s music, like Pixar films, has a timelessness that will allow it to be easily understood for decades to come, while Chapter 319 may need footnotes for listeners in 2040. “It would be great if I would, “Diggs says, smiling sadly. “It would be great if we didn’t all immediately understand what that song is about.” He was planning to end up asking about his hopes for America in the next few years. But I think he only answered that.

• Soul will air on Disney + beginning December 25.

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