The high school coming of age story is a classic genre, usually a comedy that follows small group of friends aiming to do something simple that spirals into a crazy adventure out of their control. We’ve seen this in hilarious successes like Superbad and Project X, but what makes Dope original is how it goes beyond the confines of the genre and where it takes these laughs.
Moving the genre out of the white suburban setting, director Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope takes place in Inglewood, CA, specifically the drug and gang related section known as “the Bottoms”, where student Malcom (Shameik Moore) with his friends Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori) find themselves in possession of drugs and a gun after a mix up at a club. The “90’s hip hop, punk music performing nerd” proceeds to find himself embroiled in an escapade that challenges his personality and what he represents to the core.
What Dope does differently begins in its acknowledgement of not wanting be cliché. From the beginning the movie recognizes how its main character has the stereotyped traits of an African-American: raised by a single mother, having little to no relationship with his father and coming from poor, crime filled neighborhood. This acknowledgement asks audiences to ignore those traits and focus on the actual personality of Malcom and asks them to realize this is not your stereotyped “African-American film” but rather a unique story that one should not compare to films such as Boyz in the Hood. Continuing on its originality, Dope also acknowledges the generalizations made about African-Americans in a scene where Malcolm receives the description of “not one of those niggas.” This is where Famuyiwa uses the movie to attack stereotypes. This comment suggests that there are two separate types of black people: ones who get involved in gangs, illegal situations and stay in the “hood” and ones who are “nerds”, are interested in “white people” things and want to go to college. What this movie does is destroy that notion, though in an over the top manner, by presenting the audience with a black male who enjoys performing punk rock but finds himself moving drugs and weapons. Most importantly, it is presented well.
Shameik Moore’s acting holds viewers in the palm of his hand. When he wants the audience to feel the awkwardness of a high school senior, when he wants them to laugh, jump or cringe, or when he wants them to hold their breath, he achieves his goal. He does not just settle for a believable performance but makes the audiences understand that is what it would be like if this character truly existed. Through this talent, Dope can only be described as a near perfect combination of an eye opening documentary and an adrenaline pumping story. Thus, while comprised of a mostly minority cast and possibly considered a movie not for white people, it is actually a movie everyone should see.