Film Review: Dope

Just finished watching the 2015 film Dope. Loved it.

Written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa, produced by Forest Whitaker and Nina Yang Bongiovi, executive produced by Pharrell Williams, and co-executive produced by Sean Combs. Starring Shameik Moore as Malcolm Adekanbi, Tony Revolori as James “Jib” Caldones, and Kiersey Clemons as Cassandra “Diggy” Andrews.

Though set in present time, Dope offer props to the 90’s, particularly 90’s hip hop and 90’s urban coming of age dramas like Boyz n the Hood. It delivers a potent social message with humor as it depicts a snapshot of the life of Malcolm,  a smart, peaceful high school senior who lives in a Inglewood, California (referred to as “The Bottoms). Malcolm wants to go to Harvard. But not before he and his best friends, Jib and Diggy, all purported geeks, navigate through a number of obstacles, unexpected to them but that are typical of their neighborhood. Of course—and this is my favorite part— with killer hip hop classics from the golden age (1988-2001) and the trio’s post punk band Awreeoh’s original songs (ghostwritten by Pharrell Williams) strategically played throughout.

 Dope does play into some street stereotypes. And the main trio is actually cool, not geeky or nerdy. But the ultimate message of the film is important—that despite circumstances, a person can soar, achieve success, and find their sense of self. Without denouncing the people or place they may have left behind.

I think the challenge for this film, and other films like it, are to present more complex and powerful female characters. Ones that expanded beyond the usual good girl, bad girl, buddy, and mother.