When celebrities hang out with Bustle editors, we want to give them the chance to leave their mark. Literally. So we hand them a pen, a piece of paper, a few questions, and ask them to get creative. The rest is up to them. This time, Blindspotting star Janina Gavankar is leaving her mark in the Bustle Booth.
Blindspotting has been dubbed one of the most vital films of the year thanks to its fresh take on topics like police brutality, gentrification, and racial inequality. Co-screenwriters and stars Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal spent a decade working to accurately capture the complexities of their hometown of Oakland, California, but despite not sharing the same background as them, the men's co-star Janina Gavankar has her own reasons for why Blindspotting resonates so much and has such cultural relevance.
“I wanted to make Val the child of immigrants like I am in real life,” she explains during a visit to Bustle's offices in July, speaking about her character. “There is an unsaid responsibility that we feel to honor the struggle that our parents have and the sacrifices that our parents have made for us to live in this country, and that gives us a focus and a drive and a real sense that we can’t be slowed down by any of the trappings around us.”
In the film, out now, Gavankar plays Val, the ex-girlfriend of Collin (Diggs) who pushes him to get his life back on track following a stint in prison. She's a headstrong, opinionated woman who has no qualms expressing herself, and like the other characters, she spends the movie dealing with the ways in which her changing hometown benefits the newcomer white people rather than the people of color who have grown up in that space. Yet while Val's views about topics like gentrification and race are different than the other characters, she feels just as strongly that it's important to adapt and carve a space for oneself — even when the world is fighting against people just like her.
“I love Val’s perspective, which is one that is trying to ride in the direction the horse is already going. So she does go that Soul Cycle. But that Soul Cycle is not there for her. It is there for the person who will replace her, and she’s trying to move with the town and now feels pushed out,” explains Gavankar.
Unquestionably, Val is one of the most complex characters in the film. Audiences see her from Miles’ (Casal) perspective, who thinks of her as a threat to his friendship with Collin and constantly criticizes her for adjusting to the city’s changes. But we also see how Collin feels caught in the middle between understanding both Val’s desire to help him grow and Miles’ fear of losing his best friend. Watching Blindspotting, viewers might not be initially sure if they should root for Val or Miles — but Gavankar assures that this complexity is actually a great thing.
“Rafael and Daveed don’t get extra credit points for writing interesting, complicated women. Nobody should be getting extra credit points," the actor says. "That being said, it is still kind of rare to be handed a script that has someone so multifaceted right there on the page... I loved exploring all of these sides of her. I know what it’s like to have to choose your commitment to yourself over love. It’s f**king heartbreaking, but we have to do that, especially as women.”
For Gavankar, portraying Val was a challenge, in the best kind of way. “Ironically, Val is the most like me of any character I’ve played. I’m not necessarily even proud of that, because she’s not exactly a likable character sometimes,” she explains. “[But] I’m really interested in telling stories that show parts of us that we’re least proud of.”
The actor also loved working with Diggs and Casal, who's previously collaborated on other politically-minded projects like Casal’s music to Diggs’ role in Hamilton. Blindspotting, which opens up a conversation about racism that goes beyond Oakland, served as a melting pot of actors and artists who have dedicated their careers to bringing awareness of important issues, and for Gavankar, this was a crucial experience. “You can get caught up in Hollywood and you can go a decade and never meet your people, and I feel so moved,” she says, tearing up. "I love these people so much. I believe in everything they do, every piece of art that they come out with.”
The experience made such a profound impact that Gavankar is already planning on reuniting with her Blindspotting co-stars for future projects. Right now, she’s busy writing a film based on a myth her writing partner Russo’s grandfather shared, in which Casal could potentially play a part. “I don’t want to tell you it because it’s a spoiler, but it’s terrifying. It’s a monster movie," hints Gavankar. "We’re dying to make it and I just know that Rafael will kill it dead. Kill it dead.”
Blindspotting might feel impactful to viewers, but from the bonds shared by the movie's cast, it's clear it holds as much importance to those involved in making it come to life. Read on for more about Gavankar, whose Blindspotting role is only one of the many cool things about her.