What do you get when you throw a trio of bullied social misfits into a drug scheme in South Central L.A.?Not your typical “coming of age “ tale, this i am OTHER production tells the story of high school senior Malcolm (Shameik Moore); an atypical Black kid with fashion sense, musical tastes and thoughts that far surpass his peers’. After a crazy mix-up in a club, Malcolm finds himself selling a backpack full of ecstasy for a freshly locked-up drug dealer played by rapper A$AP Rocky. With the help of his two friends Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori), Malcolm devises a plan to sell the drugs and get into the Ivy League college of his dreams.
What makes Dope so intriguing is its main character. Malcolm is a living dichotomy. He’s the type of kid that can reference Ice Cube and Neil deGrasse in the same conversation. In the most powerful scene of the film, Malcolm verbalizes this concept while writing his college essay. He describes himself as both a menace and a nerd and, at varying times throughout his ordeal Malcolm embraces both identities.
Of course, what is a teen movie without sex? Malcolm is after all a horny adolescent who, at the beginning of Dope, has yet to lose his virginity. The film is cast with some prime “Women Crush Wednesdays.” Nakia (Zoë Kravitz) is the lead love interest. With her poetic justice braids and low sultry voice, she has the cool and sexy vibes of Lisa Bonet in her Cosby days.
Model Chanel Iman takes a striking turn as the ecstasy-snorting Lily who commits an act of public indecency and goes viral.
Even the androgynous Diggy is a fresh-faced beauty we don’t often see in mainstream film.
Dope is filled with Black culture references but if you’ve seen most of the classic hood films and are even moderately versed in hip-hop of the last twenty years, you won’t feel left out. A memorable character from the film The Wood emerges early on and this movie wouldn’t feel complete without a Macklemore dig.
Although Dope has its laugh out loud moments, it is riddled with social commentary. Within the first five minutes of the movie, I lost count of how many times the characters used the word “nigga.” The film seems to encourage the use of the term when it is used among minorities. However, when Malcolm’s White stoner friend uses the term he is immediately slapped by Diggy in a moment that is both comedic and poignant.
In a moment of clarity, Malcolm condemns a successful man who grew up in his neighborhood for believing that because he found a way out, he will be treated with more respect. The dialogue implies that because both men are Black, they will always live in a world of prejudice no matter how vehemently they try to distance themselves from their roots to become the exception.
The most frustrating aspect of the film was is its inability to successfully portray Malcolm and his friends as “nerds.” I’m not convinced that Malcolm, with his flat top fade, fresh Jordan’s and rockin’ punk band is a geek. Even his obsessive love of 90’s-era rap music and retro video games would be deemed “cool” by Tumblr standards. Bottom line is these so-called outcasts are pretty damn dope.