By Brian Lucear
“I could write about the typical ‘I’m from a poor, crime filled neighborhood, raised by a single mother, don’t know my dad, blah blah’. It’s cliché”.
It’s easy to imagine that writer-director Rick Famuyiwa lived by this quote during the writing of the 2015 Sundance breakout hit DOPE.
The story follows Malcolm Adekanbi who is a high school senior in Inglewood, CA. Malcom dreams of being accepted into Harvard, spends his time playing in a punk rock band with his friends Jib and Diggy, and crushes on the older girl from the block.
Malcolm and his friends spend every day trying to avoid the “hood traps” of their neighborhood. A wild night at drug dealer Dom’s (portrayed by A$AP Rocky in his debut role) sets the movie in motion, leading the friends on a frenzied quest to rid themselves of a backpack filled with drugs.
The aesthetics of DOPE are masterfully crafted by its brazen soundtrack of 90’s classics like “The Humpty Dance” and Pharrell produced original music (Pharrell also serves as executive producer of the movie). The clothing of the main trio stand out with flashy colors, especially against the monochrome modern outfits of the secondary characters.
If you’ve seen Famuyiwa’s directorial debut The Wood, you’ll know that he is skillful at capturing black youth in a particular decade (be on the lookout for a cameo by one of that film’s memorable characters).
When DOPE premiered at Sundance in January 2015 it quickly took the film festival by storm, and distribution company Open Road Films scooped the flick up for $7 million. The positive reception, along with the confidence from the distributor, proved that this is the type of film audiences of minority demographics would love to see.
DOPE is smart, and its writing is top notch. This is a movie that isn’t afraid to tackle stereotypes. As narrated by Forest Whitaker, Malcolm and his crew love “white people shit”, which includes getting good grades, applying to college, and Donald Glover. While the movie is not as heavy-handed as last year’s Dear White People, race related topics are covered in humorous, stylish fashion.
The movie is a perfect hybrid of a teen film from the 90’s with authentic commentary about new-age black youth. Rick Famuyiwa writes and directs a film that feels so genuine for the millennial generation that it’s easy to forget that he’s 42 years old. DOPE is the movie that most 15-25 year olds would make, and that’s what gives it heart.
Like John Singleton’s Boyz in the Hood captured street life in such raw fashion for its time, DOPE brings contemporary issues to its forefront. Without spoiling the film’s thought-provoking ending, the perception of young African-Americans drives the core of what is mostly a riotous comedy.
DOPE is the most fun that I’ve had at the movies in a while. I attribute that to the fact that it feels like MY movie. For me, Malcolm is the most relatable character that I’ve seen on film.
Only time will tell if DOPE will join the ranks of quotable classics such as House Party, Juice, and Friday. However, it does fill the void that was left in 2006 by ATL: a coming-of-age film with black protagonists that young adults of a generation can call their own.
DOPE is Rated R for language, drug content, sexuality/nudity, and some violence-all involving teens