If “Crash” had the slight edge of a stoner film it would be “Driving While Black”. The film blends comedy with the serious and timely subject of racial profiling and police brutality flawlessly. What makes “Driving While Black” so enjoyable is it makes its points without proselytizing. At its heart, the movie is about the ups and downs of a flawed individual trying to make ends meet while pursuing his passion. Dealing with the police just happens to be a part of the story woven into his daily life. In many cases we see play out in the news, I think this is what makes police brutality so appalling and the film so relevant.
Set to the sounds of hip-hop and the visual background of LA streets both seen and unseen in films, “Driving While Black” is a guaranteed conversation starter. Writer/star Dominique Purdy is Dimitri, a pizza delivery guy trying to make it as an artist in LA. He’s had his fair share of discriminatory run-ins with the police in his lifetime, which has left a distrustful taste in his mouth as evidenced through flashbacks in the movie. After his car breaks down giving him some time to take a tour of celebrity homes in LA, Dimitri has an opportunity to get a better job as a star maps guide. Each time he makes an attempt, something comes up that keeps him from the interview, and it’s usually the police.
The film also works at portraying a balance of both sides of the coin. Simultaneously throughout the film we are able to see the inner workings of a local police unit comprised of ethnically diverse cops that weave in and out of Dimitri’s storyline. The workplace banter amongst the cops is filled with realism that brings them down to a “next door neighbor” type of vibe that is relatable. From Officer Borty-Lio (Sheila Tejada) trying to get promoted to provide for her family in a squad full of men, to the bad apple Officer McVitie (Peter Cilella) whose past demons have created an over-aggressive monster behind a badge, the film does a good job of developing all characters involved on both sides of the issue.
“Driving While Black” doesn’t sugar coat its character’s decisions either. In one scene, Dimitri is pulled over with a friend who has been driving while high on marijuana, and in another a friend has a gun in the car. It almost makes you question Dimitri’s choice in friends, but these are real life examples that show we all aren’t perfect. It’s a great mixture of ingredients that help to allow the viewer to decide what’s right and wrong in the situation.
Director Paul Sapiano does a great job of pacing the film out and allowing the film to disarm you with its comedy. But when the film gets serious, it’s hair-raising. It’s the situation that black men prepare themselves and their sons for. It’s the type of situation that every move and word counts if you want to go home that night. It’s exactly what makes the film a great display and analysis of the subject matter that will have you talking after the lights come up.
“Driving While Black” takes a comedic approach to a controversy that has become all too common these days. Sometimes comedy is the best medicine. Hopefully, it can serve as another resource to open the door to conversation about this troubling issue in America.
“Driving While Black” screens at the DC Independent Film Festival Friday March 11, 2016.