The Rick Famuyiwa directed film Dope may come across as your average coming-of-age film about black youth in the hood that find themselves thrust into a situation much bigger than themselves; youth, who through determination and perseverance, make it through as more solid and confident renditions of themselves, a pretty corny and worn out premise. An easy assessment to make based of the two-minute long trailer. Surprisingly, this film is so much more than that.
Following high school Seniors Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his two friends Jib (Tony Revolori), a multi-racial smartass, and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) the suave member of the crew who happens to be a lesbian, who live Inglewood, California. A group who describes themselves as “geeks,” digging through boxes of 90’s Hip-Hop treasures in the local record store and indulge in activities most in their school would label as “White Shit.” Getting good grades, fully annunciating words and skateboarding, among other things.
Touching on social commentary centered on stereotypes of African-Americans makes for a humorous and sobering experience. From scenes like Diggy’s family trying to “pray the gay away” on a weekly basis to Malcolm’s school advisor sitting with him and telling him that his aspirations of becoming a Harvard student are a bit far-fetched, especially with the current Common App essay he plans to submit on “Discovering Ice Cube’s ‘It Was a Good Day.”
The movie plays on these stereotypes in such a way that makes viewers realize how preposterous said stereotypes are. As the movie progresses so does the depth and weight of the message Famuyiwa intends to convey to the audience, showing not only that individuals are more than where they come from, but also the toll circumstances can have on youth growing up in a certain environment. These circumstances take our protagonist, Malcolm, from a shy and apprehensive teen to someone that finally stands up for himself in the most obvious way, against a bully, and albeit, not the most encouraging way.
Here is where we get to our grandiose message, much bigger than the characters and their own personal growth. By the end of the film you realize, and are shown, that this story isn’t just about Malcolm, but Black youth as a whole; youth that choose not to be a product of their environment, but make something of themselves despite enormous adversity.
Without divulging too much about the film, this is not the corny piece of cinema that it’s assumed to be, but an eye-opening narrative about the trials and tribulations an individual goes through trying to make it out of the hood. By the end, you’ll leave with a greater understanding, not of the black plight, but what it actually takes to escape it.