Lionsgate has bought global distribution rights to “Blindspotting,” the drama about race relations in Oakland, Calif., that opened this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The critically acclaimed film will receive a wide release from Lionsgate’s Codeblack Films and Summit Entertainment label later this year.
The movie stars “Hamilton’s” Daveed Diggs as a man on the last days of his parole. He moves boxes out of houses with his friend (Rafael Casal), as they navigate a series of tense situations in their neighborhood involving race and violence.
Diggs and Casal co-wrote the script, which they’d worked on for a decade. First-time feature director Carlos Lopez Estrada made the film, which premiered at the Eccles Theatre on Jan. 18.
“’Blindspotting’ [is] the most exciting cinematic take on contemporary race relations since ‘Do the Right Thing’ nearly 30 years ago,” wrote Variety’s chief film critic Peter Debruge in a rave review. “This explosive big-screen collaboration marks a rousing and incredibly timely choice to kick off Sundance 2018, with great potential to serve as a cultural touchstone in months to come.”
It’s been a slower market at this year’s Sundance. Two films with positive reviews, Amazon’s “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” and A24’s “Eighth Grade,” arrived in Utah with distribution in tow, and Netflix and Amazon, which can usually be counted on to spark bidding wars, have been relatively quiet.
Neon and AGBO spent $10 million for the global rights to “Assassination Nation,” a genre action movie that debuted in the festival Midnight section, the biggest deal out of Sundance so far. Among the more notable deals: “Colette” landed U.S. distribution for roughly $4 million from Bleecker Street and 30West, Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions picked up “Search” for $5 million, and “Hearts Beat Loud” sold to Gunpowder & Sky. But there’s still a lot of films out there looking for a home. Other high profile titles left audiences divided, and there is a fear among distributions about splurging on an indie that could be the next “Patti Cake$,” the rapping drama that Fox Searchlight landed last year for $9.5 million that bombed at the box office.
Several buyers were interested in “Blindspotting,” including CBS Films and Neon. MoviePass, the service that allows consumers to watch unlimited movies for a low monthly fee, was also circling the project, in search of a distribution partner, but couldn’t find one, according to knowledgeable sources. The Orchard was very close to landing the picture at one point, but was outbid by Lionsgate.
“Blindspotting” is produced by Keith Calder and Jess Calder of Snoot Entertainment, who also financed the film. Diggs and Casal are also producers on the film.
“We’re excited to be teaming again with Keith and Jess and to be reunited with Daveed who recently starred in our worldwide box office hit ‘Wonder,’” said Lionsgate president of acquisitions & co-productions Jason Constantine. “All of us at Lionsgate look forward to bringing this incredible film to audiences.”
López Estrada, Diggs and Casal said in a statement, “We took the approach on this film that convention would not hinder the telling of an authentic Oakland story, and we know from experience that our new partners are not afraid to push boundaries and try something new. We could not be more excited.”
“This film has been a passion project for us over the last decade,” said Keith and Jess Calder in a statement. “Along the way we’ve been lucky enough to work with and get to know the team at Lionsgate. Codeblack and Lionsgate have proven to be champions of bold, risk-taking filmmakers and there is no one we trust more to introduce ‘Blindspotting’ to the world.”
The deal was negotiated for Lionsgate by Constantine, Eda Kowan, EVP of acquisitions and co-productions, John Biondo, EVP of business & legal affairs, acquisitions and co-productions and Elizabeth Hopkins, SVP of business & legal affairs, acquisitions and co-productions. Endeavor Content and Erik Hyman of Loeb and Loeb negotiated the deal on behalf of the filmmakers.
Estrada is repped by UTA, WME and Brookside Artist Management represent Diggs, and Innovative Artists represent Casal.