You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Driving While Black’

Co-writer/star Dominique Purdy drew on his experiences of getting hassled by police for this comedy that's a bit too cavalier for the times.

Paul Sapiano
Dominique Purdy, Sheila Tejada, Peter Cilella, Joanie Bovil, Gloria Garayua.
Release Date:
Feb 1, 2018

1 hour 32 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3879200/

Between the time when “Driving While Black” toured film festivals in 2015 and its theatrical bow in 2018, the shooting death of Philando Castile during a traffic stop in St. Paul, Minn., made national headlines (among other killings across the U.S. of unarmed African-American citizens by police). The specter of that incident makes it all the more surprising that Paul Sapiano’s episodic slice-of-life, inspired by the real experiences of his co-writer and star Dominique Purdy, is foremost a light comedy, albeit one rooted in righteous anger over the everyday practice of racial profiling. That Sapiano and Purdy juxtapose the misadventures of a black delivery man with the nuanced conflict within a Seal Beach police department is also unexpected, though it sets the film on a collision course it doesn’t survive. Few will likely pull over for this micro-indie, but Purdy’s effortless charisma in the lead role deserves a citation.

Described at one point as looking like “Dave Chappelle’s cousin,” Purdy shares some of Chappelle’s sly, easygoing irreverence, always ready to unleash a quip at any moment, particularly if it’s to defuse a sticky situation. As Dimitri, an aspiring artist who picks up weed and rent money delivering pizzas in a beat-up Ford, Purdy plays the type of guy who gets into trouble without looking for it (or deserving it), which makes him a fine case study for the effects of overpolicing. At its best, “Driving While Black” is like “Harold & Kumar” with a Black Lives Matter edge: All Dimitri wants to do is drive to Hollywood for a simple job interview as a celebrity tour guide, but the cops keep him pinned to the side of the road. That he’s able to maintain his sense of humor speaks to an instinct for self-preservation.

For Dimitri, run-ins with the law are an occupational hazard to zipping pizzas around town, but he has a system in place to minimize his exposure. Via voiceover, Dimitri talks about checking for cops as an automatic reflex, like fastening his seatbelt and adjusting the rearview mirror, and he claims to have a sixth sense for when they’re around. His rules get more particular, too: Change streets when you spot a patrol car and never look like you’re having a good time, lest you’re assumed to be under the influence. Despite his abundance of caution, Dimitri has amassed enough tickets to get squeezed by municipal fines, which is trouble of another kind.

“Driving While Black” takes pains to distinguish between good cops and bad cops and all points in between, occasionally spending time in a police unit where a racist cop (Peter Cilella) loses a promotion to a less experienced Asian-American candidate (Sheila Tejada), which he bitterly assumes is a diversity hire, despite his spotty track record. When an at-large child kidnapper vaguely matches Dmitri’s profile, the troubles within the department spill out into the street, and a not-so-routine traffic stop becomes a dread-soaked inevitability.

The merging of the two storylines is labored beyond belief, requiring Dmitri to accumulate a trunk full of items that just so happen to synch up with the M.O. of a sadistic kidnapper. While it’s unfair to expect “Driving While Black” to be entirely free of happenstance, the film fares best as a pot comedy littered with occasional buzzkills, with Purdy breezily improvising his way through the day. Dmitri faces danger near the end, but this is not the kind of life-and-death satire “Get Out” mined so well. Still, the sequence where Dimitri wisecracks over a celebrity tour is a funny showcase for the actor and tacit evidence that leaving guys like him alone is better for the community than hassling them on every block. Left to his own devices, he’s content to work his charms for an hourly wage and smoke up the extra tip money. The system has a way of making a harmless man dangerous.

Film Review: 'Driving While Black'

Reviewed online, Chicago, Jan. 29, 2018. Running time: 92 MIN.

Production: An Artist Rights Distribution presentation of an Anthem Films production. Producer: DJay Brawner. Executive producer: Patrick DiCesare Jr.

Crew: Director: Paul Sapiano. Screenplay: Dominique Purdy, Sapiano. Camera (color, widescreen): Bryant Jansen. Editor: Enrique Aguirre. Music: Taz Arnold, Thayod Ausar.

With: Dominique Purdy, Sheila Tejada, Peter Cilella, Joanie Bovil, Gloria Garayua.

More Film

  • Nona

    Film Review: 'Nona'

    Twenty years and 12 features down the line, it’s still hard to peg the directorial sensibility of Michael Polish, with or without the presence of brother Mark as frequent co-writer and actor. His output has been all over the place, from early Lynchian quirkfests to the very middle-of-the-road inspirational dramedy “The Astronaut Farmer,” not to [...]

  • Pawel Pawlikowski "Cold War"

    Pawel Pawlikowski's 'Cold War' Wins for Best Film, Director at European Film Awards

    “Cold War,” Pawel Pawlikowski’s black-and-white romance set in the 1950s, scooped the prizes for best film, director and screenplay at the 31st edition of the European Film Awards on Saturday. “Cold War” star Joanna Kulig also won the award for best actress. Marcello Fonte, the star of Matteo Garrone’s “Dogman,” won for best actor. More Reviews [...]

  • The Favourite Bohemian Rapsody Star is

    The Best Movie Scenes of 2018

    When we think back on a movie that transported us, we often focus on a great scene — or maybe the greatest scene — in it. It’s natural. Those scenes are more than just defining. They can be the moment that lifts a movie into the stratosphere, that takes it to the higher reaches of [...]

  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

    Box Office: 'Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse' Soars Toward $35-40 Million Debut

    “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is swinging into theaters on a high note. Sony-Marvel’s latest output is launching to $42 million from 3,813 North American locations in its debut, though other more conservative estimates place that number at $35.5 million. The animated superhero story picked up $12.6 million on Friday, easily leading the pack for the weekend. [...]

  • Ventana Sur : Cinema226 Closes Four

    Cinema226 Announces Four Intl. Co-Productions, Hints at More (EXCLUSIVE)

    Mexico’s Cinema226, run by Marco Antonio Salgado and Sam Guillén, is driving into a raft of Mexico, Argentina and Spain co-productions, playing off the current vibrancy of Mexican film production funding and distribution outlets. Among the projects are titles which have been standouts at Ventana Sur’s Blood Window, the next film by Mexico-based Argentine filmmaker [...]

  • Ventana Sur Debates Gender Parity in

    Ventana Sur Debates Gender’s 50/50 in 2020 for Argentina Film Industry

    BUENOS AIRES — Despite recent gains, namely the equality pledge towards 50/50-2020 signed at the Mar del Plata Film Festival on Nov. 12, producer Magalí Nieva, pointed out that no representative from INCAA was present following the apparent resignation of its vice-president Fernando Juan Lima. “We are left without an interlocutor to discuss gender policies [...]

  • Ventana Sur Rocks with Sales, Mass

    Ventana Sur Rocks with Sales, Mass Attendance, Structural Growth

    BUENOS AIRES — Celebrating its 10th anniversary with a huge hike in attendance to over 4,000 accredited delegates, the 2018 Ventana Sur will go down in history on multiple counts: Sales and pick-ups on movies which combined social comment and entertainment value, increasingly the new foreign-language movie standard; new sections, led by a Proyecta co-production [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content