Movie review by
Alistair Lawrence, Common Sense Media
Residue Movie Poster Image
Drama about impact of gentrification falls short; language.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 90 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

How communities help provide support and comfort. The negative impact of gentrification -- particularly, in this instance, on Black communities.

Positive Role Models

Jay is portrayed as ambitious, returning to where he grew up in Washington, D.C., with the intention of writing a movie in order to "give a voice to the voiceless." However, some question whether Jay is in fact just being opportunistic. The local Black residents are generally friendly and welcoming, taking an interest in each other's lives. The White residents act arrogantly and obnoxiously, making mild threats when they see what they perceive as antisocial behavior.


Gunshots heard in the distance. Character has to be talked out of a potentially violent confrontation on two occasions. Character resists arrest. Blood shown running over a sidewalk. Character hits someone before being restrained. Someone is punched to the floor and then kicked while on the ground. Character shot at close range. A character reacts violently when they believe two people have crossed the street to avoid them.


A couple in a casual relationship lie in bed together and talk about infidelity.


Language includes "s--t," "f--k," the "N" word, "bitch ass," "mother--king," and "f--ked up."


Real estate agents seek to profit from buying up homes from local residents. Crowds film their protest with smartphones. People perform tricks on motorcycles and quad bikes at a social gathering.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some smoking -- possibly pot, but unclear. Reference to living across the street to a "crackhouse."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Residue is a drama about gentrification and the impact on residents -- specifically Black communities -- and contains strong language and mild violence. Jay (Obinna Nwachukwu) returns to his home town in Washington, D.C., with the intention of writing a movie about where he grew up, only to find the place unrecognisable. The positive message of the movie is relayed in the bond that the local Black residents still have with each other. Families and friends are shown to care for one another and take an interest in each other's lives and futures. This plays against a backdrop of aggressive real estate agents trying to buy up their homes and sell them to wealthier white residents, who are mainly shown to be condescending, defensive and arrogant. Violence features occasionally, with gunshots fired off screen and someone shown getting shot in a flashback scene -- low lighting prevents the shooting from being too graphic. There are other minor scuffles, including punches and kicks, the most violent of which involves a character being punched to the ground and then kicked while on the floor. Swearing is intermittent and conversational -- rather than in anger -- but does include variants of "f--k" as well as the "N" word. Characters smoke what appears to be pot.

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What's the story?

RESIDUE is a drama about Jay (Obinna Nwachukwu), a filmmaker who returns from Los Angeles to his childhood neighborhood in Washington, D.C., to find that it is changing beyond recognition. Jay begins to explore the impact of gentrification on the local Black residents including his parents, childhood friends, and even Jay himself.

Is it any good?

This movie shifts into focus when it gives its characters room to reconnect and reminisce. But ultimately a few well-observed scenes can't compensate for the movie's shortcomings. A movie about a writer returning home so that he can write a movie about where he's from, Residue is a story within itself. Central character Jay's desire to document where he's from despite no longer wanting to live there is an interesting premise, and one that will resonate with anyone who fondly remembers where they grew up while at the same time feeling like they've grown apart from where they're from.

However, the debut feature from writer-director Merawi Gerima quickly shows itself to be heavy on thoughtful compositions, but lacking in characterisation and plot. The camera's lens is layered with effects during flashback sequences, while some camera angles deliberately frame scenes so they match the awkward, uneasy point of view with which the local Black residents see gentrification changing their neighborhood forever. It's effective at times, but also repetitive -- fireworks and other visual metaphors are over-used with diminishing returns. Jay is especially dull, with his mumbled dialogue and passive presence rendering Residue well-intentioned but lacking the creativity and impact of Blindspotting, which tackles similar subject matter in much more memorable fashion.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Familes can talk about how gentrification is portrayed in Residue. In what ways has Jay's neighborhood changed? Why does this create tension and problems? What are the pros and cons of gentrication? How would you feel if the place where you grew up was no longer recognizable to you?

  • Discuss the strong language used in the movie. How did you feel hearing some of the language used? Do you think this kind of language is needed to tell a story like this? If so, why?

  • Talk about the difference between how the Black characters and the White characters are portrayed. What do you think the movie is trying to say?

  • Discuss Jay's changing relationship with his family and friends. Why does Jay's ambition to make a movie about where he's from annoy some of them? Do you see both sides of the argument?

Movie details

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