Filmmaker Merawi Gerima isn’t interested in telling one-dimensional stories. His debut feature film Residue, set in Washington, D.C., is an intense look at the impact of gentrification, Black identity, and the complications of returning home. The story follows aspiring filmmaker Jay (Obinna Nwachukwu) as he returns to his native, and unrecognizable, D.C. childhood neighborhood which has been ravaged by the effects of gentrification. Ostracized by neighbors and concerned with the disappearance of an old friend, Jay goes on a journey of self-reflection as he comes to terms with his ever-changing surroundings. Distributed by Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY Releasing independent film collective, Residue premiered as an official selection at this year’s 77th Venice International Film Festival’s Giornate degli Autori and was recently released on Netflix. As Gerima tells us his connection to film runs deep. He credits his father Haile Gerima, the Ethiopian filmmaker and prominent figure in the L.A. Rebellion film movement, with his tender and authentic approach to the craft. Below, Merawi Gerima spoke with Interview about the urgency of Residue, the importance of working with non-professional actors, and art’s capacity to save.
JULIANA UKIOMOGBE: Did you always want to make movies and be an artist or was it something that happened gradually?
MERAWI GERIMA: It happened gradually, but art and film have always been in my life. I think I went through many stages exploring and trying to find which corner of the art world really felt expressive for me. My parents are both independent Black filmmakers and when I say independent, I mean fiercely independent. They love to tell Black stories without any filter. I really didn’t have any appreciation for it growing up. But being raised in that world, I always heard, “Are you going to follow in your father’s footsteps?” At a young rebellious age, I started to reject that phantom pressure because it was other people’s pressure and not my parents’. So I went everywhere else but film. First, I went to biology, pre-med. Then I went to jazz. I was playing guitar like a fake Jimi Hendrix. I went to 3D graphics and ultimately graduated with graphic design. But as I was graduating undergrad, I still didn’t feel satiated. I still didn’t feel like I had access to a tool or medium that I could fully express myself with. It was around that time that I really started thinking seriously about film. So I applied to some film schools and here we are.