Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope is the nerd comedy that our young generation needed. Before that, the only big budget film depicting nerd life to me was Revenge of the Nerds, and that was in the 80’s. Sure, there’s been other movies that touched on the subject, but nothing comes close to the zaniness and vulnerability of the Nerd film quite like Dope has. 2016 is a different time now and we all would like things to be a bit more diverse, so it’s refreshing to see that finally, a black nerd takes center stage.
Dope focuses on the life and times of Malcolm Adekanbi (portrayed with panache by Shameik Moore), an Inglewood high school senior who get good grades, stays out of trouble and loves 90’s hip-hop. Flanked by his two best friends and punk-rock bandmates, lesbian wonder-girl Diggy and the goofy yet earnest Jib, Malcolm is dreaming of the day when he can finally attend Harvard and leave his hard surroundings behind him. However, things take a strange turn for Malcolm when he finds out that neighborhood tough guy Dom stashes his bag full of drugs during a very dubious party that ends in a shoot-out. With options dropping minute by minute, Malcolm has to find a way to not only get rid of the drugs, but to do so without ruining his future.
There’s a lot that I love about Dope, but one of the elements I that I feel it gets right is the sense of WTF that occurs once Malcolm discovers the drugs in his bag. His initial reaction is gold and the way the film sets up the promise you see in Malcolm’s life thusfar makes the revelation of the drugs all the more tense, confounding and jarring, much like getting hit by a Mack truck. Lets also be honest and say that the revelation digs deeper for the fact that Malcolm is black (duh), and as y’all know, the consequences for him are a LOT worse compared to your average white or asian kid. This sense of urgency transforms the film from an urban coming-of-age tale to a caper-like escapade, where Malcolm is forced to use his wits to elude danger, wackiness and some very shady people in order to survive.
I also felt that Dope really portrayed the life of a nerd better than most films do nowadays while not curbing around with the stereotypes. For example, Malcolm isn’t some dweeb with glasses and a pocket protector. He likes 90’s hip-hop culture, and that seems to really RILE up the bullies in his life. One scene in particular that stuck with me was when he was harassed in the school hallways and was pushed onto the lockers, where said thugs / bullies questioned his “weird” style and fashion, while trying to steal his damn sneakers. No one helps him except the security guard, who earnestly feels that Malcolm’s a good guy. Nevertheless, scenes like that where school violence spurts out from unhinged and ultimately insecure assholes are what grounds Dope on reality, and this is especially the case when Malcolm fights back in his own way. Overall, Dope is a fun coming-of-age film which revitalizes how we see nerd-life onscreen. Its fresh approach in a very REAL setting reminds us that the plight of the geek extends beyond the realm of the straight white boy, and into the hands of some very cool, smart and hip teens of color. If that doesn’t spell out DOPE to you, then I don’t know what will.