Have you ever been counted out before you were even given a chance? If so, Shameik Moore’s character, Malcolm, might be the most relevant on-screen individual this year. The coming-of-age tale Dope will feel familiar to those who have two-stepped in Malcolm’s shoes. A young black male raised by a single mother (played by Kimberly Elise), trying to navigate this thing called life. As the movie’s central figure, he doesn’t necessarily fit the mold of a cool kid or gangbanger, which not only resonated with this writer, but the millennials who’ve felt like an outsider in the Internet age.
This is only part of the Malcolm’s story, striving for a better outcome given his situation. In a part of Inglewood, Calif. called “the Bottoms,” Malcolm and his ’90s hip-hop-obsessed friends, Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori), slide down a “slippery slope” of unfortunate events. The Rick Famuyiwa-directed flick introduces the geeky trio ducking and dodging gang members at school, already cementing their unpopular status in the school’s social pool. After unexpectedly inheriting pounds of dope from local drug dealer Dom (A$AP Rocky), the bros try to figure out a way to sell the narcotics without being picked up by police, or more importantly, a certain tech-savvy drug lord.
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No, I’ve never found myself in a dire situation where I had to finesse selling pounds of Molly like Malcolm and his besties did. No, I’ve never had my sneakers stolen so that hobbling was an alternative to walking home, but I have had authority figures question my goals, like Malcolm’s guidance counselor, Mr. Bailey (Bruce Beatty) did. Calling Malcolm’s dream of attending Harvard University “too ambitious” nearly dashed the high school senior’s desire to make the Ivy League.
In that moment, I was Malcolm.
During one of my first internships three years ago, my then-editor asked to see me after a meeting with the entire class. Thinking I would be commended for my progress at the company, I was instead told, “Maybe writing isn’t your thing.” I won’t lie and say I was fine afterwards, but it did take me a while to gain back that confidence in my scribing. It’s still a journey, but the accomplishments I’ve achieved thus far — currently being a contributor editor at VIBE — have me singing, “Look at me now.”
Like Malcolm, I realized individuality is the best revenge. The struggles Malcolm and his friends were forced into made them into their own MVPs without the need to fit in. Using their smarts, Malcolm & Co. make a Bitcoin account and surf the ‘Net to safety, realizing that what makes them different actually makes them dope. Started from the Bottoms, now they here.
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Dope is more than just its Pharrell Williams-produced soundtrack or an A-list Rolodex of cameos. The film is a home run for cheerleaders rooting for the underdog. Although it’s a fictional film, viewers will find themselves in Malcolm IRL. After all, there’s no point in being cool if you can’t be yourself.—Camille Augustin