Cinematic Releases: Driving While Black (2018) - Reviewed

As I sat through Paul Sapiano’s Driving While Black, I thought to myself that I wasn’t qualified to watch this film, let alone review it. As the story unfolded though, I realized just how human we all are, no matter the color of our skin, our orientation, our status in life.

Dominique Purdy stars as Dimitri, an artist who would rather suffer for his art, which he is good at, than work through the system. He delivers pizza to make ends meet. Mr. Sapiano’s direction really gives Dimitri’s experience some heft as we go through his daily life. The earlier scenes in the film depict Dimitri as a carefree soul, but someone who is as responsible as any human, driven to be as helpful, as courteous, and as cooperative as possible. 

It is interesting that Mr. Sapiano chose to shoot his film in Los Angeles. Its diversity is a veritable melting pot of people just trying to make their own ends meet. Historically, Los Angeles has also been the most visible for the media to focus on crime and racial profiling. And the film uses news footage from the riots to explain itself. 

The people and the world around Dimitri are not as cooperative, and it leads to some humorous, and eye-opening situations. It speaks so many truths to the experiences of our character, especially at the behest of the police. The interesting aspect is that it shows the “other side.” The media paints the police in a negative light, and the film touches on it. But in a scene in the police briefing room, they address this specifically. 

Yes, it might seem cliché that the police don’t want to do any more paperwork than is necessary. The justification is that it takes away from their ability to help people in distress. The larger picture that this story thread weaves is that they only have so much knowledge to work off of; so many details that might or might not be wrong. As a result, the numerous examples of police stops that the film touches on are really reflective of a lot of unknowns that we all face every day. It reflects genuine fears that even those with badges have. Behind the “rough and tumble” of some of the officers are people who are just as scared as citizens are. If that is reflective of police relations, it felt very visceral.

And that’s part of the charm and the challenge of the film. It reflects on these very real and human thoughts with humor. It doesn’t shy away from them, but at the same time, the story telegraphs or, better stated, projects the story’s climax. Yet, the projection actually works in this case, because it reflects how we all feel. Because it’s very human. Because it is what we expect to happen. 

And then, the last five minutes of the film happen completely changing the entire tone of the film, and for the better. It doesn’t just dismiss the prior 90 minutes of the film, but it uses it to lull we, the audience, in to a false sense of security. 

Driving While Black has been a hit on the festival circuit and will get a limited, nationwide theatrical release on February 1st from Artist Rights Distribution, Inc.

-Ben Cahlamer