Driving While Black Review

Driving While Black is a dark comedy exploring the reasons why so many black men have concerns of unfair treatment, especially while driving.

Getting laughs out of social satire is a long and proud tradition in movies and the best of them know how juggle the jokes with the justice, skewering and lampooning so we are entertained even as we learn. With Paul Sapiano‘s Driving While Black, there is definitely a lot that earns solid laughs, both in service to the plot and in observation of life in LA, however it’s its dedication to authenticity that makes the message one not to forget.

Dimitri (Dominique Purdy) is a young black man in Los Angeles, working as a pizza delivery boy, though hardly committed to it. A little directionless, he spends time with his friends cruising the roads and keeping his girlfriend happy. However, on these streets Dimitri is a target, and not from roving gangs looking for blood, but rather from those sworn to protect them. From his childhood ’till now, he has had almost uncountable encounters with police who pull him over. Dimitri is not a bad guy. Sure, he smokes a bit, but he’s smart, a talented artist, is looking for a challenging job, and wants to contribute, however he is black, and behind the wheel, that’s seems all one needs to be to get the wrong kind of attention.

Written by Purdy and based on his actual experiences, Driving While Black has us witness a broad range of law enforcement patrolling LA, some of it bizarre, some of it funny, some harrowing and yet all feelling authentic. From bicycle cops to black cops and everything in-between, Dimitri faces a collage of uniformed characters and with each new officer, it’s a game of guessing why they stopped him and what the outcome will be. Not all of them harass. Some even help. Both Purdy and Sapino are careful not to make these officers caricatures or even villains actually, but rather a troubling reality. We even spend time with some of them and get insights into their philosophies and procedures. Yes, they are problematic for Dimitri and so many others who are far from the criminals they are targeted as, though Driving While Black isn’t apologietic for their actions, simply treating this as everyday life. Both for police, who often face unimaginable dangers, and the innocents simply trying to get from one place to another.

Made with the support and advice of the sheriff’s department, there is a biting sense of realism to the pullovers, each playing out as authentically as possible. Humor often stems from truth, and while much of what Dimitri deals with is distressing, there are genuine laughs, and yet not in a traditional comedic sense. This isn’t a Chris Tucker film. Dimitri offers commentary on the world he is part of, taking us on a tour of what that world is like from his point of view. It’s a world where he can mock the inaccuracies of a cheap Hollywood tour company and then find himself trying to get an interview for doing the same thing.

Driving While Black is not always easy to watch, especially as it comes to the end, an image that offers no answers. It forces us to challenge our own expectations and perceptions, some of them honed by a media that often portrays blacks in limited light. It’s an uncompromising observation not only on blacks but many victims of racial profiling, and while it gives voice to both sides, is clearly aiming to broaden the discourse on what is happening not only in LA but all across the country.

Driving While Black opens in theaters February 1st.

Driving While Black Review


Director(s): Paul Sapiano

Actor(s): Dominique Purdy, Sheila Tejada, John Mead

Genre: Drama. Comedy

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