Filmmaker Merawi Gerima Talks About the Shock of Going Home Again - OZY | A Modern Media Company
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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because Ava DuVernay considers Gerima one of the nation’s finest young filmmakers.

By Sean Braswell

Filmmaker Merawi Gerima sat down with OZY’s co-founder and CEO on The Carlos Watson Show to talk about his new Netflix show Residue, as well as some of his observations about how his hometown of Washington, D.C., has changed over the years. Here are some of the best bites from their hourlong conversation, which can be found on The Carlos Watson Show podcast feed.

Returning to a Changed Hometown

Carlos Watson: Tell me a little bit about Residue. What’s the film about?

Merawi Gerima: Residue is about a young man who comes home to Washington, D.C., in order to write a script, to make a film about his neighborhood, his childhood, the way he grew up. And when he arrives, basically he finds that things have changed beyond recognition, beyond his control, beyond his ability to really reconcile. So he’s really struggling to reconnect to his neighborhood — one, to tell a story, but two, just to kind of figure out what the hell happened.

CW: And it’s semiautobiographical, is that fair to say?

MG: Yeah, semi would be putting it lightly. I think at a certain point it was semi. But once we started filming, it became pointless to even act like it wasn’t about me because we were filming in my neighborhood where I grew up. We were filming the people I grew up with, you know what I mean? They were in front of the camera and behind the camera. We were filming in the locations that I grew up with or where I was raised. 

Gentrification, Police Brutality and ‘Stragglers From the Past’

CW: And gentrification obviously plays a big role. Is that because you saw that happen up close and personal in D.C.? Or were there other things that made you grab onto the theme and focus it around that question of gentrification?

MG: Well, I think that you’d be hard-pressed to tell a story in D.C. at this point in time, you know what I mean, without that being a major theme. Because what we’re seeing is basically the eradication of D.C. as we know it. And I think that’s kind of what prompted the project. I had been away in film school for about a year and then I had known gentrification was happening and already been mad about it, but to see how much had changed in one year was devastating. 

CW: What surprised you about gentrification? Were there several interesting things that even you discovered?

MG: [O]n the ground level, you experience gentrification in day-to-day kind of interactions with people, and you know, one building goes down, another one comes up. You’re not really aware of how all these forces outside of your perspective impacts your life on a day-to- day basis. But once I started down this path of making this film and just educate myself, the more you start to see how layered it is. But at the same time, you also start to just get a sense that it is tied up in every other form of oppression that Black people face anyway, you know what I mean? Because now I’m at the point where I really don’t differentiate between gentrification and police brutality. … Because the police really act like a cleanup crew, just kind of sweeping through … and just preparing the environment for this new population.

One white woman so perfectly named them as “stragglers from the past.” There was a woman who came to audition for the film and she was telling me about where she lives, which happened to be my neighborhood. And she was like, “It’s nice now. It used to be whatever, but now it’s nice. Although every once in a while you still see stragglers from the past. You see a couple of stragglers from the past.” I was like, “Whoa.”

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