Most high school movies are predominantly about white kids. From The Breakfast Club up through American Pie and beyond, you’d be hard pressed to find a movie that features at least one minority character let alone an entire cast (Nick Cannon movies don’t count because he’s awful). When we do get movies about black high school students, mostly it has to deal with them growing up in a bad neighborhood and becoming a product of their environment. While Dope fits that category in a way, its main character just so happens to be the smartest person in the film, and uses it to use the system to his advantage.
What you have with Dope is, more or less, a socially conscious Superbad with characters dealing with more significant problems than trying to bang Emma Stone. Malcolm is a high school senior that, despite growing up in a bad neighborhood, is on the fast track to an ivy league. He doesn’t really fit in with anyone in school: his interests are stereotypically “white”, while his upbringing is typical of a black kid in the inner city. This dichotomy of expectations alienates him from most people, save for a couple of his closest friends. When things go south at a party thrown by a local drug dealer (A$ap Rocky), Malcolm unknowingly walks off with a handgun and a whole lot of dope. The rest of the film follows the three as they embark on an odyssey throughout the city as they desperately try to rid themselves of the drugs and go back to their normal lives.
Right off the bat, the first thing I love about this movie is the music, especially the music from Awreeoh, the band the three leads play in together. Seriously, I listened to the track “It’s My Time Now” about five times while writing this. These songs (produced by Pharrell Williams), combined with the 90s hip-hop tracks that fill in the rest of the soundtrack gives this movie such a unique energy that really sets the tone for the rest of the film. It’s also an extension of the character Malcolm, who geeks out over the 90s hip-hop culture of Naughty By Nature, A Tribe Called Quest, and the Digital Underground.
Besides the music, what makes Dope an exceptional film is the breakout performance of Shameik Moore. Moore does a fantastic job of creating the character at the center of the film, as Malcolm is thrown into a situation of his environment, which he’s successfully ignored up until this point. But he perseveres, and his intelligence keeps him one step ahead of everyone. Even when he’s pigeonholed by the circumstances and the perceptions of an important person to his future, he outwits him, and proves that you can be a genius in the inner city, and you can get a perfect SAT score, and you can move six figures worth of dope in just a few days, and you can rock out some badass music.
All in all, Dope is a fun movie with an infectious energy, while at the same time, has something to say about the life of a minority kid in the inner city. And seriously, listen to the soundtrack.