By Nadia Dalimonte
Obinna Nwachukwu in Residue (2020)
Merawi Gerima’s directorial debut Residue, which recently premiered from Array on Netflix, is a stunning achievement not to be missed. A poetic blend of past and present, with seamless transitioning between imagery and sound, depicts the stirring headspace of gentrification.
The film follows a young filmmaker Jay (Obinna Nwachukwu), who returns to his childhood home in Washington D.C. (after many years away) to write a screenplay about his experiences. Upon returning, he discovers that the neighbourhood he once knew is unrecognizable. Streets are paved and painted over. New residents occupy familiar houses. Old friends are lost in time. Gerima’s camerawork evokes dreamy faces and faded memories. He plays on time in a creative and personal way, bringing vivid moments of history through blurred recollections, then snapping back to reality in an instant.
Gerima does an incredible job displaying the protagonist’s emotional response to a changed livelihood, as the protagonist himself is trying to put feelings on paper. “Did you actually think a script would make a difference?”, the opening narration questions. Jay is deep in reflection, wanting to capture experiences through writing while also searching for people from the past who can fill in the blanks. He discovers one of his childhood friends, Demetrius, is in prison. Upon visiting Jay’s parents, Lavonne and Reggie, Jay learns they’ve been receiving constant notices to sell their home. The community has been erased by a gentrified setting infested with blatant ignorance, and the aftermath is depicted through the protagonist in a compelling way. Nwachukwu delivers one of the year's best performances as Jay. This film is a strong debut feature, a passionate collaboration and powerful portrayal of disorientation on screen.