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Review: 'Residue' Interrogates the Impacts of Class, Race, and Gentrification

by Noe Kamelamela
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Sep 17, 2020

Right now gentrification is tearing communities of color apart in most major American cities. One city, in particular, our nation's capital, is best known for this dangerous and lethal combination of Jim Crow red-lining and modern gentrification. While there are shorter documentaries and a great number of cries for help - not just through standard means but more modern ones - spread out on social media via crowdfunding platforms and digital cash applications, it can be difficult for unaffected people to focus, since these collisions of racism and classism are frequently framed as individual problems and not part of a larger, systemic problem.

"Residue" left an impression on me because it insisted on focusing both inwards into the protagonist, Jay (Obinna Nwachukwu), and outwards, turning the camera towards the white people surrounding what was once his neighborhood.

Very little of the violence is graphic, and none of it is ever gratuitous, but much of the verbal abuse or casual, almost incidentally cruel, abuse has fairly deep layers. A white audience may not understand why threatening to call the cops on a Black person is violent, but even non-Black people of color will understand why that type of threat now, in 2020, has an extra punch to it; violence added for little effort if you will. Actual physical violence in this movie is almost a relief since the microaggressions between Black characters and white folks (never-named characters who never have more than a few lines) continue even almost to the last few scenes.

After leaving his neighborhood behind for over a decade, young Black artist Jay comes back from California to attempt to find his old friends in the neighborhood. He is trying to get a movie made about his childhood, but he has been disconnected from his old friends for a long time. Jay seems absent-minded and uncaring. Obinna Nwachukwu plays him as intensely concentrated, turned towards his mind's eye, and more in communion with his own memory and thoughts than the experiences of the people around him, whom he claims to love. He is a passionate person, and passion doesn't give anyone understanding, or patience, or necessarily deep and abiding connections.

While Jay's memories and interactions in the present feel grounded and even magical in some cases, particularly his meeting with a friend in lock-up, there are intentional disruptions where white people appear. I felt enraged by the refocus to unaffected white folks who casually speak about, and talk down to the Black community that surrounds them, as if the community is not made up of Black people or that the Black community in DC is not effectively their community. These interactions filled me with a certain kind of sadness, a piece of which remains after watching the film.

Now playing in select theatres and streaming on Netflix,

Noe Kamelamela is a reader who reads everything and a writer who writes
very little.

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