The film Dope, directed by Rick Famuyiwa, focuses on the lives of three teenage friends who live in an unfavorable neighborhood and attend a public school, dreaming about a better future. The movie plays with stereotypes, portraying its main character Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his two comrades, Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori), as smart and defiant non-white students who have white goals. Malcolm dreams to enter Harvard and attain success in his future career. However, the boy realizes that his dream may be ruined when he notices that his school backpack is full of drugs after attending a birthday party. The movie urges viewers to think about the choices people make, the roads they take, and the possibilities they will lose if they make a wrong step in life.
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The movie begins with a definition of the word “dope.” This word has three meanings: it is slang for a stupid individual, the definition of drugs, and something cool (Famuyiwa). In such a way, the film director prepares his audience for the mixture of feelings and emotions that will arouse during the watching process. Three best friends – a shy straight-A student Malcolm, a lesbian girl Diggy, and a wry boy Jib – have a punk band and are fond of the music and culture of the 90s. Malcolm is preparing for Harvard admission, and he presents his application essay on Ice Cube’s “Today Was a Good Day” to his school advisor (Famuyiwa). The counselor offers him to write something about himself instead of this creative work, but Malcolm disagrees. Later in the movie, the viewers will observe the character’s maturation and changes in his views on life in general and the application process in particular.
The three friends of color are the targets of ridicule and humiliation in their high school in Inglewood, California. One day, Malcolm notices a beautiful girl Nakia (Zoë Kravitz), but she has a boyfriend Dom (ASAP Rocky), who is a street gangster and a drug dealer. Dom invites Malcolm to his birthday party, and the protagonist agrees only because he wants to see Nakia again. However, the party ends with a skirmish and Dom’s arrest, and Malcolm discovers drugs, a gun, and a phone in his school bag the next day. Since this moment, Malcolm and his comrades are trying to discard the dope and save their lives and reputation.
One interesting scene in the movie is the scene when Malcolm comes to the interview with Harvard alumnus, Austin Jacoby. The boy discovers that Mr. Jacoby is Dom’s addressee, AJ. The man denies his involvement in this drug story, convincing Malcolm that it is his responsibility now to solve the problem. If he does not sell the dope by their next interview, Jacoby will not give him a commendation to Harvard.
Malcolm and his friends visit a computer hacker Will Sherwood (Blake Anderson) who helps them sell the drugs online. They register for a Google Science Fair project to have access to their school laboratory and pack drugs there. The friends also use the computer class to conduct transactions and receive all payments in Bitcoins. They manage to sell all drugs eventually, and when Malcolm visits Jacoby again, he blackmails him to ensure that his application to Harvard will be successful. In the end, Malcolm rewrites his application essay, writing about two students – a music band member who receives straight As and a student who has to make money in immoral ways. The final questions of his essay are as follows: “Why do I want to go to Harvard? If I were White, would you even ask that question?” (Famuyiwa). Thus, the themes of racial discrimination and stereotypes, related to non-white people, are evident in the movie.
Reaction and Discussion
The movie Dope is trying to break stereotypes about people of color, representing its protagonist as a geek who aims to enter Harvard. According to Gazi, the term “geek” “is founded on the principles of homogenous racial construction – to describe these characters as geeks is to question their authenticity as black” (4). Although the characters are placed within a black community, they have alternative interests, which make other people of color reject them. In such a way, the film director focuses on the theme of being a minority within a minority. Malcolm and his friends are supposed to be the targets of mockery and social outcasts who either obey the more authoritative members of their neighborhood or run away. However, every person has a choice: to leave everything as it is, or to fight for their happiness. Malcolm chooses the second path, taking advantage of the current situation with drugs and using his quick wits to attain success.
While watching the movie, one could think that Malcolm might have brought the drugs to the police and avoid all those incidents that happened to him later. However, if he and his two friends of color came to the police with the drugs and the gun, they would be immediately arrested because of the stereotypes white people impose on the blacks. Therefore, Malcolm is forced to leave the drugs and become a drug dealer, even though he sells the drugs in an unusual way. It seems that the film director made Malcolm an antihero intentionally in order to demonstrate that modern society often does not give a chance to people of color to have equal opportunities and possibilities. The protagonist’s words “if I were white” emphasize the continuing problem of racial discrimination in modern society (Famuyiwa). The film director shows that some people of color are often forced to take the wrong roads because they are not given a chance to fulfill their dreams in more civilized and legal ways.
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Although one may dislike the biased presentation of the lives of black-skinned people in the film, there is one scene that makes the viewers comprehend the director’s message. In this scene, Malcolm comes to Jacoby and brings him a part of his money, telling him that he will receive the other part if Malcolm enters Harvard successfully. Then, the main character changes his application essay, emphasizing the problem of racial discrimination and stereotypes again. In this final scene, Malcolm demonstrates that he can only attain success by using the same blackmailing and illegal methods as Jacoby does. Jacoby is known as a respected businessman and Harvard graduate, but he is also a drug dealer who uses other people to do the dirty work for him. Although Malcolm was a peaceful and kind student, when he realized that he could lose all good possibilities in his life, he chose the illegal path to win this fight. Thus, the problem of unequal opportunities and bias in modern society is evident.
In conclusion, the main message of the film is perseverance and opportunities. The characters manage to solve all their problems and remain intact, thus refusing to be discriminated against and humiliated by other members of their community. The film teaches that people can act differently if they believe in themselves and refuse to be labeled and stereotyped. Finally, the movie shows that geeks can be not only the subjects of mockery but also the world leaders who can change the existing rules and find creative ways out of the most difficult situations. If only these ways were more positive and moral, the world would become better.
Famuyiwa, Rick, director. Dope. Sony Pictures Releasing International, 2015.
Gazi, Jeeshan. “Race in the Age of Tribeless Youth Culture: Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope (2015) and Recent Shifts in African-American Pop Culture.” Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, vol. 9, no. 1, 2017, pp. 1-14.