White faces are typically obscured in Residue, Merawi Gerima’s impressive feature debut. He either leaves them out of focus, cuts them from the frame, shoots their silhouettes or positions the camera over their shoulders, providing evidence that they exist without identifying them. Whiteness is acknowledged in the film, but not visually. Residue is about colonization, and through the creative choices he makes, Gerima suggests that colonization stories don’t actually have to be about the colonizers themselves. Instead, he maintains a personal touch over the picture and the narrative, about a homecoming that goes slowly awry over the course of a 90 minute duration.
Gerima’s protagonist is Jay (Obinna Nwachukwu), a filmmaker aspirant who makes the long sojourn from L.A. back to his childhood home, Washington DC’s Q Street, which resembles his childhood home no longer: The aesthetic has whitened up, the caucasian presence palpable even before a whiny prick calling himself Jake chides Jay for double parking on the street and playing his music too loud. “Don’t make me have to call the cops,” says the prick off screen from camera left as Jay stands stunned at the blatant display of bigoted entitlement. Q Street is where he lived. This was once his block. But what was his isn’t his anymore. It’s Jake’s, plus the ravening pack of predatory realtors waving cash offers in front of residents’ faces in an effort to squeeze them out of their own homes. Make way for Chad and Karen.