Malcolm Adekanbi (Shameik Moore) is a young man living in “The Bottoms” of Inglewood, California. While this isn’t the best geographical starting point for Malcolm’s dreams of attending Harvard University, Malcolm isn’t the average student; he has a perfect GPA.
But his brains aren’t what make Malcolm stand out. He and his friends Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori) are hip-hop aficionados who are walking encyclopedias of the hip-hop golden age of the 90s. Besides the inconvenience of being poor, attending a school with metal detectors, occasionally being jacked for his new sneakers, having to pedal home fast enough to navigate the gangsters, and dealing with his jaded (and lowkey jealous) guidance counselor, life is pretty good. Malcolm, Diggy, and Jib’s rock-rap band, Awreeoh, is sounding great, his mom (Kimberly Elise), is a city bus driver who makes enough to pay the bills, and he has an upcoming meeting with a Harvard alum that could solidify his future.
Malcolm’s life becomes unpredictable when he meets gangbanger Dom (ASAP Rocky) and his ex, Nakia (Zoë Kravitz) and after a wild party that ends in chaos and bullets, Malcolm is forced to make several tough choices and use his brilliant mind in some truly unconventional ways. With some help from his friends and their token white associate (Blake Anderson), Malcolm navigates these dangerous waters and learns some lessons about how the most dangerous people aren’t always those on the street corners flashing guns, but the respectable ones in fancy suits.
While Dope is entertaining in many respects, it often uses respectability politics are “othering” in order to get there. A hallmark of Malcolm’s character is his belief that he is so very “different” that the other Black people around him, a mindset which reeks of internalized anti-Blackness and which ensures that he and his friends will continue to be isolated for the rest of their high school career. His dream school is a private White institution (PWI) and while there’s nothing wrong with Harvard in theory, the fact that Malcolm assumes that a poor Black boy will be more understood and accepted in a school overflowing with the rich and White simply because he’s intelligent highlights how even the smartest people can be woefully naive. Despite all of this, Dope redeems itself but not doing something that many coming-of-age films featuring Black protagonists often do: Using trauma as a plot device. In Dope, we take an exciting ride with Malcolm in an unusual but exciting coming-of-age journey, with an amazing soundtrack to get us there.
I give this one 3.75 stars.