Rafael Casal: 'Blindspotting' humanizes the incarcerated

"You can both acknowledge that everyone has faults, but that fundamentally, this feels cruel and unusual to do to people," he recently told reporters.

Left to right, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Atticus Woodward and Rafael Casal star in "Blindspotting." Photo courtesy of STARZ
1 of 5 | Left to right, Jasmine Cephas Jones, Atticus Woodward and Rafael Casal star in "Blindspotting." Photo courtesy of STARZ

NEW YORK, May 11 (UPI) -- Blindspotting co-creator and star Rafael Casal says he hopes his Starz dramedy series presents a different point of view about the incarcerated and their loved ones than that often portrayed in the media.

The follow-up to the 2018 movie of the same name is in its second season.


New episodes air Friday nights on the cable network and follow Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones), an Oakland, Calif., woman whose husband, Miles (Casal), is at the beginning of his five-year sentence for dealing drugs.

He is leaving her and their son, Sean (Atticus Woodward), to move in with Miles' mother, Rainey (Helen Hunt), and sister, Trish (Jaylen Barron).

Casal told reporters in a recent Zoom interview that the show is intended to humanize the incarcerated.

"You can both acknowledge that everyone has faults, but that fundamentally, this feels cruel and unusual to do to people," he said.


"A lot of the show's goal, politically and emotionally, is to get you invested in a group of people that immediately complicate your perceptions of the prison industrial complex and who it is affecting."

Casal said he hopes that when people watch the news and hear 60,000 inmates are incarcerated in California for selling cannabis, they will think about Ben Turner's lovable Blindspotting character Earl, Ashley's neighbor and a surrogate dad for Sean while Miles is behind bars.

"When you're watching the show, all you want is for people to leave him alone and let him go about his life," Casal said. "This is a good, decent, loving, human being. That's who is mostly in prison."

The actor and filmmaker said many people believe U.S. prisons are filled with murderers and rapists, but those actually make up a small percentage of the population.

"It's a lot of very stupid crimes that get people locked up for a very long time and a lot of them are things we don't even care about any more. We just haven't let people out of prison for them," Casal said.

"For us, it's about providing counter narratives to a lot of the things we were indoctrinated to, growing up, when we think about who is bad and good in society, who is guilty and innocent and putting a face on those things."


He thinks it is unfair that families get "ripped apart" when someone goes to prison for a nonviolent crime.

"There's a Sean somewhere. There's a little 7-year-old who is going to have to do visitations in a prison and that's going to have an effect on his life," he added.

Nearly a year behind bars has impacted Miles' character development and strained his connections with the outside world.

"A lot of Season 2 is about acknowledging that any time in prison -- certainly the nine months that we are checking in on -- has an effect on a person's mental and physical health, has an effect on their relationships," Casal said.

"In Episode 3, they're all going to visit [Miles] like they're going to play house and that works for a little while. They can pretend they're not in prison."

The weekend sleepover program is designed to keep families intact, but it is far from ideal.

"Ashley walks in and there are five time checks during the night. Nobody's getting decent sleep. There are guards with guns everywhere. There are certain conversations that you just can't have in there," Casal said.

"Also, Miles is surrounded by an extremely hostile environment, whether it is the hostile nature of the inmates or the hostile nature of the circumstances he is in, inside a prison that is engineered to be hostile and terrifying.


"How does a person not in that environment and a person in that environment maintain an intimate loving relationship? It's an unbelievable task."

Casal compared Ashley and Miles' challenges to those that Greek heroes Odysseus and Penelope faced in Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey.

"They are going to have to choose each other again," Casal predicts about Ashley and Miles' ultimate reunion.

"Is Miles going to have enough of the old him left to be the person that he needs to be to Ashley and will Ashley be enough of who she was? Because now she is going to have been a single mom for five years. How is he going to fair on his own as someone who loves his family, but isn't with them?"

Season 1 ended with Miles having a brief, but meaningful phone conversation with his best friend Collin -- payed by Daveed Diggs, the show's co-creator and Casal's co-star in the film -- who has fallen out of touch with Miles as he tries to resume his life after serving his own prison sentence.

The scene hints at Collin's eventual return to the franchise.

"It's kind of accurate to people that we know who have been incarcerated in California. A lot of people I know, as soon as they get out, they get the [expletive] out of California because the recidivism rate is so high," Casal said.


"Collin's absence is not just strategic because, for a long time, Daveed was on Snowpiercer and couldn't be on another TV show, but also the absence is a part of what needs to be felt," he added.

"We're hoping that now that it's been a couple of years since he's been locked up, there is that question of when is he going to come back around and try to get his life back?"

Casal and Diggs frequently talked about if and when Diggs returned as Collin, it would be as part of an attempt to have his criminal record expunged.

"Then we would have the totality of the prison industrial complex experience -- getting arrested, going into the system... coming out, getting sent back, coming back out again, reestablishing relationships with your family," Casal said.

"The final step would be: 'How do I find employment with this on my record? Can I ever get out of it?'" he added. "Then, I think, we would have covered what it is to be a part of the prison system in the United States."

When Diggs returns, it will probably be to help Miles adjust to life outside of prison.

"He has a best friend who has done it," Casal said. "That feels like there is always fertile ground for that there. I think, right now we just left it on the board because we haven't needed it, but it is always there for us."


Casal is constantly surprised by how many people from different walks of life tell him they connect to the story and characters he created.

"You never get to choose your audience, so you are like, 'I wonder who's going to show up?' I hoped, selfishly, that we did a good enough job that women feel invited to the show," Cassal said.

"We've done so much work to make sure that that's who is taking leadership roles in our writers' room and on our set and in our cast," he added.

"It's been a joy to see people find relatability in Trish and Ashley and Janelle (played by Candace Nicholas-Lippman) and Helen and Margot (Hall who plays Nancy). That's been really, really exciting to us."

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