“DRIVING WHILE BLACK” is a film from 2016 that is finally getting its much-deserved theatrical release in a limited run starting in February. It’s directed by Paul Sapiano, it stars Dominique Purdy. The two of them teamed up to write this script about a young black man in Los Angeles delivering pizzas, and the reality he faces of being a constant target of the police. Specifically, while driving, and how it affects his mindset and daily life.
I really enjoyed this film. It was able to take some serious subject-matter and spin it perfectly into grounded humor and it did so without ever trivializing it. The story-follows Dimitri (Dominique Purdy) as he lives his daily routine in LA and with the direction from Sapiano it did an effective job of giving the film an intimate feel. It takes the viewer with Dimitri as he goes about his routine and it creates an intriguing fly-on-the-wall feel to the entire narrative.
As the story progresses Dimitri has many unforeseen run-ins with law enforcement and they each deliver their own brand of natural humor. Racial profiling does exist, and sure this film may mildly stretch certain elements of the dialogue, but they are all still grounded in some form of reality. For myself, I found some of the dialogue from the cops in this film comical because it felt like the spoken iterations of their silent thoughts. Thoughts that are often, not said, although as we progress in our society today, it seems speaking the ugly truths of your subconscious is becoming the norm.
But despite all of that, I still found the shining message of this film being the unending spirit of Dimitri. He cannot catch a break, he just wants to make some money, do his art, hang out with his girl, and get a better job. But getting from Point-A to Point-B is like swimming in a pool with sharks. His car doesn’t run well, he constantly has to avoid the attention of police, but Dimitri still keeps his charisma and his focus on moving forward, something perfectly captured by the performance of Dominique Purdy.
Purdy was charming, and charismatic when needed. He carries a natural sense of humor with a smooth, organic delivery. It never felt like he was acting. It felt like he was being himself, and it was able to allow for an easy connection to his character. The narration from Purdy was a nice choice as it helps the viewer continually learn more about Dimitri’s personality, without the need for story-line exposition. This element, added with some great use of flash-backs, provide a timeline of his interactions with the police that give substance to his wise evasiveness. You can relate to him despite your race, he has goals, and his isn’t a bad guy at all, so you naturally want to see him finish the story on a positive note.
The film weaves in enough side-characters to keep the laughs fresh. The story works in some nice sub-plots that all do a great job of tying together in the closing act. These small story-arcs add some depth to the message of the plot. While Dimitri may have been the focus of this story. Racial profiling can come in many forms, and in some instances even cross over to individuals inside their own departments. Something this film captured with subtly.
This was an entertaining film with loads of natural humor. It was well-edited with nice scene transitions, and routine splashes of artistic flair. The soundtrack works great with the tone of the story, with a great selection of music at the right moments. Purdy’s performance was fantastic and he was more than a capable lead. Sapiano’s direction gives the entire film a raw, almost ‘on-the-scene’ vibe that pulled me in immediately, and I definitely recommend checking it out.