Driving While Black, 2018.
Directed by Paul Sapiano.
Starring Dominique Purdy, Shelia Tejada, John Mead, Joseph Ansalvish, and Julian Bane.
Dimitri delivers Pizzas for a living – but as a young black man he is faced with “extra” challenges while navigating the city. The film explores the reasons why so many black men have concerns of unfair treatment, especially while driving.
Paul Sapiano’s latest film, Driving While Black, is a starkly unique movie with arm lengths of courageous comedic lustre, coupled with a distinctly original narrative that remains sure of itself from start to finish.
Sapiano’s film understands its own time, place and theme. It accepts that racism, as it stood two years ago, was more covert and systemic. Unlike Detroit, Hidden Figures and Straight Outta Compton that aim to examine how obvious practices of racism were fought, Driving While Black looks to detect how racism is still being fought, just below the surface of what we know to be blatant. This is not to say that Driving While Black is without its flaws. It lacks a notable strong character development, alternatively relying on circumstantial events to progress the story forward. Sapiano’s film is not a hard-hitting drama, it is also not a historical biopic or exposé on white America, Driving While Black is a darker than normal stoner comedy with heart and substance. It remains unique because there are few films now that are able to elicit the same compassionate response in the framework of a stoner film.
Aesthetically the film takes on a washed out look that reflects the typical Californian stoner style, something which works well with the humour of the film, however, the editing aligns itself more intelligently with the narrative’s theme. The film is edited as though it were a documentary, lending more to the idea that these experiences are authentic, real and in no way are overdramatised. It evenly displays those that align themselves with being institutionally racist and those that can see this as something that damages the institution by displaying key characters on both sides of the argument. This ultimately builds a trust in the audience that’s kindly welcomed because of its bold humour. As the director has before pointed out previous to the theatrical release, the script was written with technical advice from the Sheriff’s Department in order to create something totally authentic, showing the real deal about police attitudes towards Driving While Black and “race out of place”.
Well written stand-up comedy has the tendency to pursue humour down different tangents that map out a more grandiose narrative that seeks to address the foundations of something they believe to be wrong. Driving While Black does this strategically and masterfully. What remains fundamentally unique to Sapiano and Purdy’s film is the way in which the narrative is mapped out with comedic tangents that examine individual issues with being black in America, while also connecting these issues to a coherent story that relies on every frame that proceeds the last. Its comedic tangents furthermore seek to lay out the fleshy foundations that seek to exploit all the preconceptions we might or might not see present in our society. Outside of the written narrative, Driving While Black’s poignant honesty is achieved in the style and editing.
The authenticity of this film is only validated further by its honesty. Without betraying the trust Sapiano gains from his audience in the style that the film is edited, the director and writer respectively make an empathetic and compassionate case for being Black While Driving. From what might seem like an array of disconnected humorous musings on first glance, Driving While Black transforms into something other, not less than 25 minutes into the feature. The writers manage to address a multitude of issues without overreaching, contending to make a comment on white privilege, black culture, internalised racism, institutional racism and profiling to name a few. Sapiano’s film identifies each issue from the detailed to the obvious in a subtle and investigatory style; a style that further supports the documentary look it aims to adopt.
With so many characters introduced scene by scene, the case could be made that this excessive display might be a design to embody the multiple viewpoints that the film tries to authentically represent. However, as a result of the casting decisions, the writing and the calibre of acting that’s derivative of each character, the film breeds a likeability that increasingly supports the need for every character seen and spoken about. By the end, you genuinely believe that everyone you might have seen is a necessity to the film’s progression, those you might not believe are a necessity become integral to the humour of the film.
While addressing such a serious subject matter can be difficult and sensitive, Sapiano and Purdy have managed a wonderful job of discussing the reality of these challenges without resorting to overdramatising the events for entertainment or propaganda. The entertainment that’s derived from the film is less concerned with drama and more focused on being boldy well written. Humour in Purdy’s film acts as an instigator to highlight the absurdity of systematic racism is the basis of entertainment in the film. At times the film is insatiably funny, at other times it mimics a realism and honesty that’s hard to stomach, almost recreating the same feeling of tension that must accompany any person of colour when then get into a car in America.
Driving While Black is bold, determined, intelligent and very, very funny. The tension that comes from not knowing what might happen when you see flashing lights appear in your side mirror is the same tension that will follow the viewer to the films bitter end, leaving you Despite appearing from out of nowhere, I would highly recommend you keep an eye out for this film when it hits UK theatres in February; pending you can’t make it to the cinema, I suggest you by the film the moment it is released on DVD. Come for the comedy and take home the story.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★★ / Movie: ★★★★