You don't have to be African American to appreciate Dope. In fact, one should appreciate and acknowledge it more coming from different backgrounds and upbringings. Dope thrives because it's a character driven story with a captivating plot. The narrative makes you care about the characters. The audience questions their motives, their means, and their choices because we want the best for Malcolm, Jib, and Diggy. These are kids from the hood looking to get out. They are seemingly doing everything right, yet they face far superior odds and challenges than suburban kids, so when drugs get involved things get dicey.
These kids aren't looking to fit in with modern culture. Malcolm expresses his admiration for 90s hip-hop and style, even defending it against a local drug dealer, Dom, played by A$AP Rocky. These kids are proud to be different, even in an extremely difficult environment. They defy expectations and exceed them, but what really makes this an excellent coming-of-age story is how they deal with an unexpected adversary. When Malcolm gets stuck with Dom's stash of drugs after a bust, his only real chance of surviving the ordeal and maintaining his dreams is to sell it. It's just the hard truth, especially coming from some lifestyles where that seems like the dirty option. These kids didn't plan for this. They needed it to survive.
The story reminds me of a loose cross between Stand by Me and Boyz n the Hood, both excellent films in their own right. Dope gets the character growth and adventure elements from Stand by Me, and the environmental circumstances and issues from Boyz n the Hood. They combined to make something that's eye-opening and extraordinary. How can 90s-loving Black nerds who transcend stereotypes by being in a punk-rock band together survive the gruesome reality of their neighborhood? With grit, determination, and a never say die attitude.
Dope also exceeds expectations because of the performances. Shameik Moore portrays the lead Malcolm to near perfection as a shy, smart, driven kid who is not afraid to be who he is. The casting was fantastic, as each character seemed raw and real. There were no distractions or surprises in the characters actions or direction.
By the end of Dope, you feel relieved for Malcolm and his group. They ultimately survive a catrosphropic detour of their noble path, while sticking it to "the man" in a sense. Dope is a film with a special message about society, reality, and overcoming adversity. It shouldn't be overlooked, and its characters should be celebrated!