As I sat down in the theater, I was doing something you’ll hardly ever catch me doing—I was praying. “Please, please don’t let me down. I need this.”
I’m not alone, a lot of my black friends have been whispering the same prayer since the first trailers for Dope showed up. These last few years have been devastating for black people, as we see the constant reminders of police brutality, racism, and injustice—and many of us are pretty desperate for a few hours to just enjoy blackness.
A smarter, sweeter, and much better acted movie in the tradition of Friday and House Party, Dope follows three nerdy, 1990s-obsessed teenagers of color trying to survive a wild adventure after one of the teens, Malcolm, ends up with a backpack full of drugs that he’s forced to get rid of before it ruins his Harvard dreams.
Like Friday, this is a movie that people of all races will likely enjoy, but not everyone will be in on all the jokes. The humor is quick, with a Black Twitter feel, light-handed and pretty consistent throughout the entire movie. This is a decidedly black film, but in 2015, it’s been expanded to a more modern definition of blackness. Mixed-race kids, queer brown kids, light-skinned kids–their blackness is never questioned (with the exception of one hilarious scene where the teen’s white friend questions why he can’t say “the N word” while teen Jib can).
This diversity expands the appeal of this movie to black people who were decidedly left out (or demonized) in Tyler Perry films. The one area where, sadly, Dope doesn’t improve upon the black coming-of-age films of the ’90s is in its portrayal of women. With the exception of Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), whose queer character matches her friends in their objectification of women, the women in this movie are prizes and sex objects. The female characters in this film are, frankly, one-dimensional and rarely clothed. It really feels out of place when the rest of the film feels so fresh.
So when I say that I loved this film, understand how good the rest of it must have been in order for me, as a proud feminist, to still recommend it. Even with the great big F this film would get on the Bechdel test, it is still a smart and funny representation of black male teens today.
Great cameos by A$AP Rocky, Allen Maldonado, and Quincy Brown add a lot of fun to the film. But the best asset of Dope is the fantastic acting of newcomer Shameik Moore as Malcolm. With a quick stutter or a look in his eyes, he can convincingly portray the awkward stumbling into adulthood that I see in my own teenage son. I would have loved to have seen that same honesty in the portrayals of young black women, too.