In the grand tradition of classic texts adapted in alternate universes (Jane Austen's Emma goes to Beverly Hills and becomes Clueless; Sir Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes goes to Harlem and becomes Watson & Holmes,) could Dope have been, while not explicitly or even purposefully, another Harry Potter?
Let's start from the beginning. In this article, I am not aiming to prove that the creators of Dope actually did use Harry Potter as an inspiration for their film. I am going to compare these texts and show their similarities and how, much like Watson and Holmes, Dope could be an interesting Harry Potterian text that actually represents group beyond the white British middle class.
First, we'll look at the protagonists. The Golden Trio of the film, as it were.
- Malcolm as Harry
Much like Harry Potter himself, Malcolm is our reluctant hero. He does not want to be a hero, but has the task thrust upon him by factors beyond his control. He has dreams of a better life and through his newfound powers (confidence rather than magic) he becomes more powerful and confronts his demons.
His personality also matches Harry somewhat. Harry Potter is incredibly awkward around girls he fancies, fumbling and mumbling his way through conversations with Cho Chang in Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix (who doesn't cringe when thinking about that dreadful date at Madam Pudifoot's?) Similarly, Malcolm splutters and stutters as he tries to converse with Lily (that is, before she gets crazy on drugs,) and there's an overlaying tension in his every interaction with Nakia (although he is more successful in this relationship, much like Harry manages to get more confident with his relationship with Ginny.) But outside of romantic relationships, their similarities continue. The strong moral fibre, the resilience, the sass, the understanding that not all people in power are good people and the courage to do something about that.
- Diggy as Hermione
Though the secondary protagonists are not as well developed as Malcolm in terms of their personal lives, the way that they are represented resonates with Harry's best friends in the Harry Potter stories. Lesbianism aside, Diggy is also very much like Hermione Granger. She sticks to her beliefs (like not allowing Will to use the n-word, then hitting him when he does) and is Malcolm's conscience throughout the story. She never lets him down and never leaves his side, believing in him and supporting him until the very end, like Hermione in Goblet of Fire, Order of the Phoenix and Deathly Hallows (specifically, although every book has an example of Hermione's unrelenting support of Harry.)
Diggy is also not afraid to be her own person. Her two best friends are guys and she doesn't really hang around girls much (unless she's snogging them, I suppose,) and her world is very different from her family's. Hermione's world is magic, Diggy's is LGBT and 90s hip-hop. She supports Malcolm and gives him help when he needs to, and worries about him when he goes in too deep against the drug world. However, still, she doesn't abandon him, doesn't leave his side. She convinces Jib that they are in this together even though the drugs were in Malcolm's bag and it was Malcolm who invited them to the fateful party. Again, Diggy is Malcolm's conscience, and much like Hermione with Harry, she loves him and will do anything for him.
- Jib as Ron
Finally, the third link in the Golden Trio. Like Ron Weasley, Jib wants to get a better life for himself. He wants to take care of his family and become his own person. He is Malcolm's best friend and, unlike Diggy, his support does waver from time to time.
Like Ron in the later books, Jib's first response to situations isn't always to stand behind Malcolm. Although they never have explosive fights like in Goblet of Fire, sometimes Jib needs a bit of convincing (or ear-pulling from Diggy) to go along with Malcolm in his adventure. He has many thoughts on many things and is never afraid of voice them, he doesn't always stand up for himself or what he believe in. He is not a coward or a comic relief, but he does have some less than fully courageous sides to his personality, and he is always ready with a quip if necessary.
Now, moving on from The Golden Trio, the other striking similarity between these two texts is out protagonist's relationship with the main force of evil in the story.
- Forces of Evil, the Powers that Be?
In the case of Harry, it is Voldemort and his rapid rise to power, and his fight to do what he has to do to bring him down (namely, sabotage him.) In the same way, Malcolm seems to be compliant to Councilman Blackmon's demands, but it is all actually a plan to go behind his back and sabotage him from the inside in order to bring down his empire. Although Blackmon's empire is hardly the same as Voldemort's, the comparison still stands, because it's about principle. Blackmon is about ends justifying means, about staying on top, keeping his power, gathering followers. Ring any bells? That is pretty much what Voldemort does during his rise after he returns to his corporeal forms and re-summons the Death Eaters. There's nothing noble about their objectives, only in their eyes, and their followers blindly do what he says if not for genuine support, because they have been forced or coerced -- either via bribery with Blackmon, or death threats and Unforgivable curses with Voldemort.
Also, the Powers of Evil in this film hide behind perfectly nice public personas in order to conceal what they actually get up to. Lucius Malfoy and Dolores Umbridge come to mind. They work with/for the Ministry of Magic and pretend that their intentions are only the best whenever they are up to no good. Lucius in Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban is particularly important in this because he is still considered a Good Guy, on the side of Light, after being forced to join the Dark Lord in the past. And Umbridge is a Ministry worker who only wants the best for everyone, who only wants people to follow the rules. Except not really, because she is actually even more prejudiced than Lucius himself, and the megalomania runs through her veins once she arrives in Hogwarts in OotP. The evil in this film, Blackmon, is a councilman, he is the Harvand alumnus who interviews Malcolm for his entry at the university, he is an upstanding member of society, and no one would ever suspect that he makes young men join his drug gang and that his money comes from drug trafficking and violence. And while we see the neighbourhood hang leader Dom in a somewhat positive light (as he was indeed coerced into joining, even if he rose through the ranks, and is sent to prison after the police raids the party), we never trust Blackmon. He is never somewhat who might be doing this for the right reasons but going about it the wrong way. He is the representation of evil, and the Dark side Malcolm needs to fight against and defeat in order to move on with his life -- go to Harvard, leave town, become his own person rather than what everyone else expects him to be, much like Harry.
So, on a thematic level, Dope can also be compared to the Harry Potter stories. It is about fighting evil, overcoming difficulties, and letting go of the past, but never forgetting it. It is about friendship most of all, and these three teenagers coming up with insane ideas to do whatever they have to do to defeat the evil. There is no magic or wand-flicking, but that doesn't mean these two texts can't work together, or that these characters bear striking similarities with one another. It works like Watson and Holmes works, changing the universe entirely, but keeping what is important -- the relationships and what the story wants to say.
And so we can now answer the question: Is Dope really Harry Potter? Yes and no. Not deliberately or explicitly, but it definitely resonates in the same way and makes similar points. Of course, Dope is about much more than that, it is about love, overcoming the odds, racism, black youth fighting against the stereotypes thrust upon them. But then again, Harry Potter is also much more than magic schools and dragons.