UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Hidden Netflix Gems: Give “Dope” a Shot

It can be hard to balance a social life, school work, and jobs as we move deeper into the semester, and making time for Netflix can be a challenge for some, or may be the one thing getting others through the grind. Regardless, the semester is just beginning, and the initial freedom of syllabus week is fleeting. If you’re looking for something funny, touching, and not utterly whitewashed to check out on a night in, “Dope” (2015) is your movie.

From the get go, the film plays with definitions and encourages you to consider how multifaceted language is, with text of the various definitions of “dope” popping up on screen. What is “dope?” A drug, an idiot, a compliment? Then comes an implicit question that remains the undercurrent of the entire film: what is “blackness?”

At a time when people are finally being vocal about either the lack of black films or incredibly stereotypically ones, “Dope” directly plays with the idea of what it means to “qualify” as black.

Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his two best friends, Diggy and Jib, live in a violent neighborhood in Inglewood, California. The trio are just trying to live their lives: applying to college, pursuing an endearing passion for everything 90s hip-hop (the music, the fashion, the slang), and escaping close encounters with bullies. Malcolm and his gang accidentally get stuck having to do the dirty work of a major drug dealer when getting saddled with kilos of molly in a backpack switch at a party.

Malcolm might sound like too easy of a character–the geeky black kid meant for bigger things, with his sight set on a Harvard acceptance letter–but Malcolm’s life captures the struggles of black people being forced to fit themselves into particular boxes.

The film touches on other identities as well, though not to the same extent – take Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), who regularly deals with family trying to “cure” her attraction to women.

It goes without saying for hip-hop fans that the “Dope” soundtrack is packed with some of the best hip-hop classics, including songs by Nas and A Tribe Called Quest. Perhaps most entertaining is the fact that the ever-charming rapper A$AP Rocky plays a lead character, and Tyga makes a brief and satisfying cameo (especially if you don’t like him).

Although the film deals with some real issues, even those looking purely for comedy will get a kick out of the quirky personalities of Malcolm’s friends and the conveniently wild encounters the little crew of high schoolers make.

“Dope” is a little kitschy at times, even pausing to provide a voice over to introduce characters and their backstories. But the slight corniness only adds to the appeal of the film when coupled with incredibly colorful and eye catching visuals of retro yellows, pinks, blues, and greens. It also comes across in the attention-to-detail of the gang’s little actions, such as Malcolm putting on his headphones and blasting 90s hip-hop as he goes about his life, and the artful switch between the music coming from his headphones to playing over the film itself as though we are listening along with Malcolm.
The film wraps up with a deeply insightful monologue–although things work out a little too perfectly, “Dope” does not miss out on an opportunity to address the struggles that black youth face in America.