“Residue” is a cautionary film about the dangers of gentrification and the effects it has on lower income residents who are forced out of their homes and neighborhoods. Viewers are offered a raw, emotional look at a young man’s attempt at wrapping his head around returning to a place that no longer feels like home.
“Residue” is Merawi Gerima’s, son of acclaimed filmmaker Hail Gerima, film debut. Gerima draws on his own personal experience of returning to his hometown of Washington D.C. after studying at USC film school and feeling lost with what he encounters. The main character Jay goes through similar experiences as Gerima and has to cope with the loss of the place he used to call home.
Jay is troubled by how much his hometown has changed since he left, to the extent to which he feels like he doesn’t even recognize the streets he grew up on. His feelings of alienation continue as Jay reunites with people from his past and feels out of touch with his friends and family.
Upon his return to the city, the first encounter Jay has is with a white man who tells him to turn the volume of the radio down in his truck and threatens to call the cops if he doesn’t comply. This scene highlights the racial tension that is becoming increasingly apparent in the United States as well as the strain between original residents in Jay’s D.C neighborhood and the new ones moving in.
Gerima purposely obscures the faces of the white characters in most scenes. This savvy technique of only focusing on the black characters and their experiences allows the film to elevate the voices of those most negatively affected by the gentrification process.
The effects of gentrification are seen in many ways throughout the film, including the large quantity of for sale signs posted on many of the houses and the influx of voicemails left at his parents’ house by realtors offering cash for their home.
Constant flashbacks to his childhood that reveal how the city used to look allows viewers to see the old way of life that Jay is grieving. He is searching for a place that no longer exists and is having difficulty coming to terms with accepting this new normal. One of the most powerful scenes in the movie shows Jay breaking down in tears and revealing how broken and frustrated he is by what is happening around him.
As Jay comes to terms with his feelings of helplessness caused by the changing landscape of his city, he begins taking his anger and frustration out on other people. Using his knowledge of the film industry, he wants to provide a voice to the members of his community who are hurting, even though many of them are unwilling to get on board with the idea and accuse him of being part of the problem because he left. Despite the criticism, Jay embarks on a journey to film the lives of those around him to make others aware of the changes taking place.
“Residue” is a powerful film that sheds light on the increasing racial inequality taking place in many U.S. cities. Gerima uses his own personal experiences to demonstrate the harmful effects of gentrification and the grieving process that many residents experience as they watch their neighborhoods be transformed to fit the needs of upper class residents.