Don’t Believe the Hype: Dope

06/17/2015 8:18 AM |
photo courtesy of Open Road

Directed by Rick Famuyiwa
Opens June 19

Dope, the most popular movie about black folks to grace the screen at Sundance this year, presents a kalaidoscope of archetypes over its overlong running time. By film’s end it remains—even after the didactic, fourth wall-breaking, soapbox-to-the-dome ending—in search of a perspective. Or at least of a set of concerns it understands and takes seriously, instead of treating its milieu with such contempt, and its audience like they don’t know any better. Wait… they probably don’t!

See, Dope thinks it’s a satire, but it doesn’t know of what. The insidious way our nation’s image of gun violence and black youths are all bound up together? The ways in which we prescribe identities to said youths, that represent but a sliver of their diversity and complexity? After watching an audience full of white film-fest goers in Seattle laugh at breezily narrated images of teenagers being gunned down or colored youths debating when white folks can call us niggas, I’m pretty sure you found a decidedly awkward and mostly ineffective way of doing it, Rick Famuyiwa. At least unfunny to the type of black person who found Django Unchained to be the empty catharsis of our national cinema’s answer to Rachel Dolezal.

Dope’s trio of Engelwood-bred Oreos are ciphers—even the most well-developed of them, Malcolm (Shameik Moore), an ostensibly Harvard-bound, high-top fade-wearing early-90s hip-hop obsessive who, when he isn’t writing college essays about what day was Ice Cube’s “good” one or masturbating to social media photos, is unimaginatively written. He finds himself all caught up when several bricks of a designer drug and a pistol show up in his backpack the night after he flees a bullet-soaked club. But for a coming-of-ager where black and brown kids at the end of the Obama era are high school punk performers and fetishists for the world of Ernest Dickerson’s Juice, the ecstasy of influence is rarely explored in this movie. It’s more interested in scoring representational points comparing our freak flag-flying nerds with the gangbangers who harass them. No middle ground is cottoned by the film’s artificially binary representational system of blackness.

Doesn’t matter to the Sony execs. At least the soundtrack will be hot, yo!