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

  • Aladdin

    China Box Office: 'Aladdin' Opens on Top With $19 Million Weekend

    Disney’s “Aladdin” opened on top of the Chinese box office with a less than magical $18.7 million debut weekend. According to data from Artisan Gateway, the film beat previous chart winner “Detective Pikachu” which earned $7.5 million in its third weekend. That score advances the cumulative China total for “Pikachu” to $83.3 million. The Guy [...]

  • 'Nina Wu' Review: Stylish, Glitchy, Provocative

    Cannes Film Review: 'Nina Wu'

    “They don’t just want to take my body, they want to take my soul!” So runs the overripe line of dialogue that actress Nina Wu (Wu Kexi) has to repeat again and again in “Nina Wu,” the fascinating, glitchy, stylish, and troublesome new film from Taiwanese director Midi Z (“The Road to Mandalay”). Nina practices [...]

  • 'All About Yves" Review: Feeble French

    Cannes Film Review: 'All About Yves'

    Benoit Forgeard’s dorky “All About Yves,” bizarrely chosen as the closing film of 2019’s Directors’ Fortnight selection in Cannes, is literally about an intelligent refrigerator that ascends to Eurovision fame as a rapper. Imagine Spike Jonze’s “Her” played for the cheapest of laughs, shorn of atmosphere, and absent all melancholic insight into our relationship with [...]

  • 'The Bare Necessity' Review: Offbeat, Charming

    Cannes Film Review: 'The Bare Necessity'

    A perfectly charmant way to, as the song has it, forget about your worries and your strife for 100 airy minutes, writer-director Erwan le Duc’s “The Bare Necessity” is a breezy little sweetheart of a debut, that threatens to give the rather ominous description “quirky French romantic comedy” a good name. In its dappled countryside [...]

  • Adam

    Cannes Film Review: 'Adam'

    With her debut feature “Adam,” Maryam Touzani allows her audience to sit back and relax comfortably into a beautifully made, character-driven little gem that knows when and how to touch all the right buttons. Taking the stories of two women, both frozen in existential stasis, and bringing them together in a predictable yet deeply satisfying [...]

  • 'To Live to Sing' Review: A

    Cannes Film Review: 'To Live to Sing'

    After his taut, impressive debut “Old Stone” which tracked with nightmarish relentlessness the high cost of compassion in modern urban China, Canadian-Chinese director Johnny Ma loosens his grip a little to deliver a softer, if not necessarily less pessimistic examination of the failing fortunes of a regional Sichuan Opera troupe. “To Live to Sing” is [...]

  • Hugh Jackman Sings Happy Birthday to

    Hugh Jackman Leads Massive One-Man Show Crowd in 'Happy Birthday' for Ian McKellen

    Hugh Jackman may have had to skip Ian McKellen’s birthday party to perform his one-man show, “The Man, The Music, The Show,” but that didn’t mean he couldn’t celebrate his “X-Men” co-star’s 80th. Jackman took a moment at the Manchester Arena Saturday to lead the sold-out audience — some 50,000 strong — in a rendition [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content