"Dope" Movie is More Than a Coming of Age Story

By Janaya Greene on June 28, 2015
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The first time the trailer for “Dope” appeared on my Twitter timeline, I lost it (in a good way). First off, the main character wasn’t just black, he was young! Black people already don’t get much play in mainstream films and it’s even more rare that there’s a movie about YOUNG people that are Black.

Thank God for the Sundance Film Festival.

Suffice it to say, going to see this film was far from a mistake. “Dope” is about a boy named Malcolm who lives in Inglewood, California. He and his two friends, Diggy and Jib, are navigating high school as ’90s-obsessed misfits. Malcolm is in the process of applying to college and as a kid living in an underprivileged neighborhood with a single mom, he knows that people where he’s from are not expected to get in to college, or even apply in the first place. But Malcolm is determined to get there against all odds.

While I’d love to fill this post with spoilers, I’ll save you the grief. I’m going to focus on why this film is so pivotal to young, black people in today’s world.

Photo Credit: watchloud.com

1. MALCOLM WASN’T THE STEREOTYPICAL UNDERDOG.

High school was no easy journey for me. I doubt it was for anyone. I had great friends but most of the time I felt like the oddball out. I was really into alternative music and I went natural at a time when it wasn’t as embraced in the Black community as it is now. On top of it all, my personality just didn’t mesh with the personalities of the “cool kids” and it took me a while to find people I could connect with. I was an underdog.

Seeing Malcolm on film really gave “the underdogs” of high school a voice but not in the typical way. Malcolm wasn’t a character with big glasses that eats lunch in his school’s science lab. He was a kid that loved hip-hop, wore Jordans and went to parties, and who clearly was intact with what was urban and “in” but had an inner being that didn’t help him climb the social ladder.

2. NOT ALL “KIDS FROM THE HOOD” ARE ON A DEADLY PATH.

As someone from a not so well-to-do neighborhood, you get tired of seeing the same stories about “kids from the hood.” Usually movies portray teens from underprivileged neighborhoods as violent, uninspired people who commit crimes and have some harsh ending that lands them in jail or worse, dead.

Now don’t get me wrong, systematic racism is REAL and it definitely does create some messed up living situations for people of color that can lead to rough futures. But the stories of the “kids from the hood” who strive to make it out are neglected far too often.

It was refreshing to FINALLY see a story about a teen from “the hood” who wanted to go to college. The neighborhood I’m from isn’t the best, but it isn’t uncommon for teenagers to actually aspire and work for better. “Dope” took a step in a great direction that I hope gives more filmmakers a different perspective on the many paths that young people who are from disadvantaged areas take. 

(SPOILER ALERT)

3. LIFE IS MORE COMPLEX THAN A HAPPY ENDING … EVEN FOR YOUNG PEOPLE.

What I loved most about this film is that it didn’t give me some sugarcoated ending that washed away all the real issues that the film presented. On many reviews, critics were upset that Malcolm got into college by basically selling drugs that he was threatened to sell and bribing the man who was not only his college interviewer, but the local head drug dealer.

I hate to be devil’s advocate, but I loved it.

Malcolm used his wit and intelligence to strategize a way to get into college and keep himself safe from a malicious and multifaceted bank owner and drug dealer. I can’t say I’d know what to do if I were in Malcolm’s shoes. He made it clear that where he’s from college is not the usual place people go after high school. His aspiration for higher schooling outplayed doing what was right to most people and in the end, as the movie shows, he got what he wanted.

I’m not implying Malcolm’s route was the right route – if there even is one. But it presented this complex system that underprivileged youth have to maneuver in hopes of doing something more with their lives than being on the streets. Instead of focusing on how Malcolm got into university, I think the audience should be questioning why selling dope to get into college was an option for him in the first place

“Dope” is still in theaters, so if you like what you read, go check it out! A trailer is linked here.

This article was originally published on Janaya’s blog at iamafrocentricjay.wordpress.com.
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By Janaya Greene

Uloop Writer
Janaya Greene is a feminist, LGBTQ ally, racial equity activist, and all-around social justice warrior! She is also a creative writer, freelance writer, and photographer in her free time. This Chicago-native has a short film, Veracity, presenting on Showtime Networks, her work has also been published on The Lantern, Scenarios USA blog, and Uloop. She is currently working with Adios Barbie as a Writing and Publishing Intern. When Janaya isn’t re-watching Breaking Bad or The Daily Show, she’s probably listening to reggae music while trying on a million different lipstick shades. You can visit her at http://www.iamafrocentricjay.wordpress.com.

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