2015-10-09 09:02

What it's about:

Life changes for Malcolm, a high school geek who is just trying to survive life in a tough neighborhood, with dreams of attending Harvard. A chance invitation to an underground party leads him and his friends into a gritty, Los Angeles adventure complete with offbeat characters and bad choices. If Malcolm can persevere, he can go from geek to being dope, to being himself ultimately.

What we thought:

Dope looks at the realities of being a teenager in a crime-ridden neighbourhood where having good grades marks you as an outsider, yet the film still retains a unique humour stylised to resonate with the current generation's fascination with the music and fashion of the past. The racial context is also widely highlighted, both in the perception of black people in American society, what is expected from them and how to be “proper black”.

Malcolm and his friends live in a rough neighbourhood called the Bottoms, and love everything from 90s hip hop culture, get good grades and are working towards college. This marks them out as geeks by their peers, and although they try to stay away from the gangster life, circumstances force them to enter the world of drug dealing.

Whenever someone (read white person) goes off about how easy it should be to just stay away from drugs and gangs when you grow up in a neighbourhood like Malcolm’s, please revert them to this film. Even the ‘good’ kids can have no choice in the matter, including losing their life or that of their loved ones. Although Dope has comedic elements, it doesn’t lessen the impact such a world has on young people. There are many tense, dramatic scenes where a smart kid can easily end up on the wrong path, and whether or not you agree with the lead’s choices, an audience that has never experienced this life gains a sense of empathy.

Dope also explores the modern drug trade how it is currently being operated – these days it’s less about standing on street corners and more about being technologically savvy. Malcolm’s crew sell their drugs through a website on the unregulated Dark Web, mailing the goods to customers and using Bitcoins as currency. Dope also challenges your ideas of drug dealers from ‘the hood’, and showing that the real consumers of the less hardcore drugs are the privileged white kids, evidenced by recent drug busts at the festival like Rocking the Daisies. A white kid gets busted, they get community service. A black kid, they get jail time.

And then there’s the soundtrack. An eclectic mic of 90s hip-hop and pop-punk, this could rival Guardians of the Galaxy’s famous soundtrack. Not just used as background music, the music helped shaped the story and the style and was generally just awesome to listen to. Director and screenwriter Rick Famuyiwa not only cultivated a great film, but also put a lot of thought into the music choice for each scene.

Despite a lot of n-words and nudity, Dope is summed up quite accurately by it’s title. Although a teenage film where the main crew tries to lose their virginity and get a date to prom, they ALSO have to try to not get killed or arrested.

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