“Driving While Black,” Or “DWB,” isn’t a new term to any Black person living in America. It’s a systemic problem that we (yes, I too am Black) have had to deal with all of our lives. But to those of you who come from a different walk of life and have never heard this phrase until now, Urban Dictionary defines it as:
“The non-existent crime of being a black driver, and is generally a racial profiling employed by many police forces. It is a parody of the real crime driving while intoxicated.”
In simpler terms, it’s cops abusing their authority to harass black motorist! A lot of times leading to deadly outcomes for the victims. In the film aptly titled: Driving While Black, Writer Dominique Purdy and Director Paul Sapiano explore this concept with a little more humor and levity, but still with a sense of real peril.
It follows the story of a young Black pizza delivery driver named Dimitri, who happens to also be an aspiring artist. Dimitri is a typical young guy. He smokes weed with his friends, works a meaningless job, and likes to play loud music in his car. He’s not a gangbanger or thug. And though he smokes, he doesn’t sell drugs. He’s basically a good dude. We also see him time and again getting stopped by cops for no legit reason other than his skin color. Which gives you the title of the film. As a Black man whose been around for a little while, this theme is all too familiar. So obviously I had a lot thoughts running through my head as I watched the film.
And here we go…
“Driving While Black does an extremely good job of showing what a lot of Black citizens in the United States face…”
Though a little unfocused at times, Driving While Black does an extremely good job of showing what a lot of Black citizens in the United States face, while at the same time showing some hard truths about our culture as well.
For example: There is a very sobering scene where Dimitri and his friends are stopped by a police car. A White officer and a Black officer proceed to line them against the wall and frisk them. Dimitri and his friends aren’t being extremely cooperative, and even have weed in their car. The Black officer then tells them to put their hands down and lays out some truth. That even he, as a cop himself, when not on duty has to be smart and cooperative when being stopped by other officers.
This is a very teachable moment, especially for young Black men and women, that isn’t seen very much or talked about as much as it should be!
Driving While Black also does an amazing job of making you cringe at every traffic stop. Not knowing if this is going to be “the scene” where we get a senseless Black fatality by some trigger happy cop!
And speaking of the law enforcement side of this movie… I did appreciate how Driving While Black handled showing that not all of the police officers were racist antagonist. In fact, there are only a few truly “bad apples” in the film. It also shows us that police do have a pretty dangerous job, and that every altercation can have dire consequences for them as well.
But, the problem is this: The so-called “good cops” know who the problematic officers are, and though they don’t like them, they tolerate their behavior. Even if it’s just by ignoring them. This has always been the stain on law enforcement. There’s also scenes where you see officers justifying racial profiling as something they are taught to do in their training. I particularly liked the flashback scenes to the LA riots, where a much younger Dimitri is in the backseat of a car with his mom and dad watching everybody loot, while also seeing his father “come up” on stolen goods. That experience rang especially true for me cause I experienced something similar as a teenager in that particular neighborhood during that time!
“Driving While Black also does an amazing job of making you cringe at every traffic stop…”
There’s not really anything glaringly bad about Driving While Black that stands out. But, there were scenes that seemed extremely heavy-handed at times.
One thing in particular was the set-up of the “serial torturer.” The movie went out of its way to establish that a Black male was kidnapping young girls and torturing them with a blowtorch, coat hangers, and threatening them with a gun and hydrochloric acid. In a scene that you definitely saw coming a mile away, Dimitri gets stop by two of the “bad apples,” and he just so happened to have ALL of those items in his trunk. That felt like a bit much to me. Maybe one or two items I could have bought, but every single item that was rattled off in the police detail? I don’t think so.
I also feel like there was too much time spent on the tour bus arch. I get that they were setting up a plot point about Dimitri getting a job with that company, but it went on a little too long for my taste. But again, these were just a few small problems I had. And even that didn’t take away from the film.
“…there is also a strong message for all of us that we need to be better about protecting ourselves…”
Though a dark(ish) comedy, I feel the message and gravity of Driving While Black will hit home for many Black folks, and hopefully open the of eyes of people who don’t believe there is a problem with race and law enforcement in this country.
It points out the issues, but handles it without preaching or being one note about them.
Yes, it’s ultimately about how policing in Black communities need to change, but there is also a strong message for all of us that we need to be better about protecting ourselves when we find a cop at our car windows.
DRIVING WHILE BLACK (2018) Directed by Paul Sapiano. Written by Domique Purdy. Starring: Dominique Purdy, Sheila Tejada, Gloria Garayua, John Mead, and Mayank Bhatter.
7 out of 10