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Review: DOPE

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What happens when you have the likes of Forest Whitaker, Pharrell Williams and Sean Combs behind one project, something incredibly dope right? DOPE hit UK cinemas on September the 4th and has previously received a lot of praise from film critics, for its “original” and “revolutionary” perspective. DOPE also has a fair share of celebrities; from A$AP Rocky to Vince Staples to Casey Veggies to Tyga and more. But whilst array of creative minds are behind this movie, what it gains in stardom it lacks in real substance and multiplicity.

DOPE tells the story of high school senior Malcolm Adekanbi (Shameik Moore) and his two friends Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), three 90s obsessed geeks, who fail to fit in due to their interests in “White Shit” such as skateboarding, comics, Donald Glover and not playing sports or being in a gang. After a brief meeting with the neighbourhood drug dealer Dom (A$AP Rocky), Malcolm and his friends manage to find their way to Dom’s birthday party. To make a long story short and without spoiling too much, Dom’s party is raided and he is forced to hide his drugs in Malcolm’s bag, the following day Malcolm and his friends find the drugs and so begins their mission to get rid of the drugs.

The movie is reminiscent of old 90s movies like, Boyz n the Hood and Menace II Society but without the strong moral compass or sense of direction. What DOPE manages to do well is centre its story on a charismatic and charming cast. Unlike other protagonists that tend to be rough around the edges or destined for an ill-fate, Malcolm and his friends are the exact opposite and this creates a level of relatability and fondness. Another area which DOPE excels in is its cinematography and soundtrack, one scene where the three main protagonists are riding through the Sunny LA streets. Palm trees to their left and right, with Nas’ ‘The World is Yours’ playing, manages to create very compelling aesthetics, that are even more captivating with DOPE’s choice of music, which plays on the current 90s nostalgia trend.

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Whilst Malcolm, Diggy and Jib are likable, there characters do suffer from several flaws, which begin to take its toil further into the movie. Jib played by Tony Revolori is of Guatemalan descent, but his character’s constant use of the N-word is just cringe worthy and unnecessary. Although Jib acts as the clown of the group, the use of the word seems like an attempt to appeal to those fascinated by the word and the overall ghetto lifestyle. It gets thrown around so many times, that it becomes cliché. More into the movie we meet white stoner/hacker Will played by Blake Anderson, who also has a love for the word.

Besides Malcolm’s mother, all the women in the movie are light skinned and are bounded and defined by their sexuality. Jib’s homosexuality is explored in a joking manner but besides that, her character lacks any layers, instead her sexual orientation seems more like an attempt to reflect and appeal to, America’s recent embracement towards Same-sex marriage and the LGBT community. Chanel Iman plays Lily, who throughout the movie is underdressed and hypersexualised, her role in the movie is supposed to reflect daddy’s rich and promiscuous daughter, but as a whole her role just plays into the common trait of sexualising black bodies. Overall Iman’s character is just unnecessary.

The more I watched DOPE, what I came to understand is that it has all the elements which could have made it a great movie, but the amount of stereotypes its plays into is really its downfall. Malcolm’s father is a deadbeat, Malcolm ends up selling drugs, carrying a gun and is raised by a single parent mother. Although these traits can be common in some communities, DOPE’s one dimensional and very superficial way of narrating, highlights its lack of substance and morality within the movie. For example on meeting Councilman Blackmon played by Rick Fox, who is a Harvard alumnus who made it out of “The Bottoms” (the same area Malcolm is from) we find out he is also a drug wholesaler.

The moral lesson in DOPE is no matter how hard you work in school or how much you achieve, you are still a victim of your environment. Instead of Malcolm doing something actually dope like exploring his musical talent, or putting his intelligence to good use, he just becomes an intelligent drug dealer who uses this experience, as a means to get into Harvard. Whilst the overlay of DOPE is promising, delving into the actual core of the movie reveals not much but cool music and good cinematography.

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