July 17, 2015
Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope is a snapshot into the lives of three friends nearing the end of their senior year of high school. Malcolm, Diggy and Jib are three outcasts who bonded over their mutual love of music, good grades and making it out of the Bottoms (Inglewood, CA). When you’re a geek, every day is a struggle to survive life in the city without losing yourself in the process.
Malcolm is a black nerd, that rarely seen on-screen character. He’s obsessed with the ‘90s and wants very much to attend Harvard. His best friends, Diggy and Jib, are his support group, partners-in-crime and form the backing for his punk rock band, Awreeoh. Aside from having to enter school through a metal detector, getting jacked for kicks by the school bullies and almost getting jacked for their bikes by local gangsters, life isn’t too bad for Malcolm & crew.
Everything changes when Malcolm makes the acquaintance of Dom, a charismatic drug dealer played by A$AP Rocky that reminds Malcolm how much he still has to learn. Like when Dom corrects him when he erroneously claims Eric B. & Rakim’s 1987 masterpiece Paid in Full is from the ‘90s.
Nostalgia is on full blast in this movie. Playing like a John Hughes film set in the hood, Malcolm, Diggy and Jib come face-to-face with drugs, violence, privilege and the expectations we set for ourselves, all common themes of ‘90s-era urban dramas. There are plenty of cameos that harken back to those great urban dramas of the past, such as Kimberly Elise, who plays Malcolm’s bus driver-mom. Maybe you remember her from her blistering debut in Set it Off alongside Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah and Vivica A. Fox. Famuyiwa even pulls from his own filmography, giving you a glimpse of a continuing story for one of his popular characters from The Wood.
With the stellar soundtrack, which was overseen by Pharrell Williams in the background, we are privy to Malcolm’s journey to discovering what he’s made of and what he’s willing to do to make his dreams a reality. Forrest Whitaker provides the cool narration, and Malcolm himself gives the final say in his Harvard application essay, in homage to our dude John Hughes’ teen classic, The Breakfast Club: “Why do I want to go to Harvard? If I were White, would you even ask that question?”