'Dope' — Having Fun With the 'Hood
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this is not how you’ve seen the boys in the ’hood portrayed before.
By Sanjena Sathian
Dope: noun. Could mean slang for “awesome.” Could also mean drugs, specifically marijuana, or may mean something more expansive. Disambiguation: could also refer to this year’s hot comedy, which premiered at Sundance and Cannes and hit mainstream theaters earlier this summer.
The flick, written and directed by Nigerian-American Rick Famuyiwa, follows three teenagers growing up in the ’hood — specifically, Famuyiwa’s hometown of Inglewood, California. Inglewood, as we learn early on in the film, is a place where, like anywhere else, geeks have it rough. Only, rough here doesn’t mean just getting a swirly. It could mean getting shot. This pretty much summarizes what pops about Dope: It’s a comedy about the ’hood, a rarity when most directors seem to think telling stories of the ’hood necessarily means something like Tracy Jordan’s fictional Hard to Watch on 30 Rock: intense, dark, Oscar-glomming.
Famuyiwa, on the other hand, has cast three relatively unknown teens in roles that might reincarnate the adolescents of John Hughes’ Breakfast Club or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for the modern day, in slightly rougher and person-of-color context. Indeed, Famuyiwa is a huge fan of Hughes’ work, he tells OZY, and that served as a “major touchstone” in writing the film. His other great love: Stuff like Pulp Fiction. Which might explain Dope a bit, and its tendencies to go off the rails in lovable fashion. There’s the cool kid, played by rapper A$AP Rocky, who’s a drug dealer. There are the shootings. There’s the dream girl — played by Zoë Kravitz (Lenny’s daughter) — with braids, dreads and tats, trying to get her GED and avoid boys like Rocky’s character. There’s the main character, Malcolm, geek extraordinaire with a love of ’90s hip-hop (hence his adorable flattop) and “white people” stuff — aka skateboards, manga, school and applying to colleges.
The latter is what drives much of the film. Malcolm and his two best friends, a Black lesbian often mistaken for a guy and a racially ambiguous boy who we learn is allowed to use the N-word because he’s “14 percent African,” are on their way straight outta the ’hood. Malcolm dreams of attending Harvard, and is shot down aplenty, much like Famuyiwa was; he recalls writing an essay about going to Princeton one day and being told he was arrogant. (He made it to USC.) But Malcolm encounters some troubles, in the form of a giant pile of the club drug Molly that lands in his lap. And how does one get rid of entire bricks of MDMA? One sells it on the online black market. Duh.
What isn’t to love? Not a whole lot, but if we were to nitpick, we might point to the minor absurdity that the film pushes toward. The Molly wreaks some slapstick havoc — eliciting a hella dope but occasionally wildly unbelievable (and perhaps unnecessarily nude) performance from former Victoria’s Secret Angel Chanel Iman. Well, that, on the other hand, might sell you the movie.