Release Date: June 19, 2015
Running Time: 115 minutes
Sometimes we have to take the path we don’t want to walk down in order to get to a better place. Does it mean we have made the right decision? That’s the question that writer/director Rick Famuyiwa poses with Dope, a high-energy, knowing look at one young African-American man’s struggle to escape a neighborhood that offers him an uncertain and/or undesirable future. As played by Shameik Moore, straight-A high school student and self-described 1990s hip-hop nerd Malcolm wants out of his hometown of Inglewood, Calif. He doesn’t want to pursue a life of crime or—worse—end up dead on the sidewalk. So he pours all his time and energy into getting into Harvard. Then he finds a gun and drugs in his backpack. How they got in his backpack is not important—all that matters is how he’s going to make the best out of a very bad situation. At this point, Dope turns into an R-rated Disney family film that requires our amiable protagonist to outsmart everyone who’s out to do him harm. Through Malcolm and his close pals Diggy (Transparent’s Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (The Grand Budapest Hotel’s Tony Revolori), Famuyiwa pays tribute to the resourcefulness, perseverance, and optimism of youth. Malcolm is forced him to become what he previously refuses to become so he can remain true to himself. The decision Malcolm makes isn’t going to necessarily sit well with anyone who believes that a moral code must be followed at all times, regardless of how bad things gets. It certainly doesn’t sit well with Malcolm. A moral code, though, in a tough, crime-ridden neighborhood is a luxury that someone like Malcolm cannot always afford. That’s not to excuse him for what he does in Dope but Famuyiwa puts us into his sneakers so we understand the rational behind his actions. It’s about survival, nothing more, nothing less. The engaging Shameik Moore imbues Malcolm with an entrepreneurial spirit befitting of the circumstances that is only matched by the uncontainable enthusiasm he displays for 1990s hip-hop music and culture. He also enjoys an easy rapport with Clemons and Revolori, which contributes to the tight group dynamic that drives Dope. Malcolm’s plight is set to an infectious hip-hop soundtrack that mixes established classics by Public Enemy and Naughty By Nature with new offerings from by Pharrell Williams that are performed by Awreeoh, Malcolm, Diggy, and Jib’s punk band, Awreeoh (Oreo). In addition to exploring hip-hop culture of yesterday and today, Famuyiwa makes pointed, comical comments about crime as a business, social media, gender politics, and race relations, with a conversation about the use of the “N” word drawing a definitive line in the sand for otherwise clueless white people. Dope does seem to possess a casual attitude toward club drugs, with Famuyiwa treating them as both a source of amusement and a means to an end. But Famuyiwa never views Malcolm’s flirtation with crime purely as a joke. Sure, Famuyiwa finds the humor in the challenging and dangerous journey Malcolm undertakes, but he never trivializes Malcolm’s willingness to risk his future in his bid to secure it.
Aired: June 18, 2015
Web site: http://youaredope.com/