A Coming of Age Film – But The Main Character is Black! 

by Rabiah Na’Allah

When trouble strikes, we can always count on friends to help.

Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope is a modern-day throwback to the 90s, featuring geeks, nerds and a whole lot of illegal activity. The story centers on Malcolm, a Black teenage boy, and his friends, Jib and Diggy, in Inglewood, California. They get caught in a bad situation––a white, powdery one to be exact. It’s a Boyz in the Hood situation, but with a different ending; no one dies. Phew! The film was revolutionary for its feature of a dynamic and extraordinary Black lead. Shameik Moore’s character was a stereotype not often given to Black males in film. As Malcolm, he represents the nerdy high schooler seemingly unnoticed by his more popular peers, who ends up catching the attention of the pretty girl because of how “different” he is. We’ve seen this trope before, in films like 10 Things I Hate About You, Perks of Being a Wallflower, and even Spiderman. However, they all have something in common––they’re White men. If we see a Black man in any of these movies, they’re often side characters who are part of the “slacker” or “druggie” group. Dope not only flips this commonly viewed narrative, but makes it unique and fresh. Yes, Malcolm essentially becomes a drug dealer, but he finds a way to do so in the most intelligent, nerdy way. 

So many moments in Dope humanize the characters and show the audience how they’re just like everyone else. Dope does a great job in its portrayal of relationships. Famuyiwa is notorious for centering strong friendships in his films, like Brown Sugar and The Wood. In Dope, the trio’s friendship is heartwarming: friends sticking by each other in the lowest of the lows, realizing that going through things together is better than alone. This film can appeal to audiences of all ages because of the relatability to the emotions of the main characters. Audiences can relate to Malcolm, who tries to get the girl even though he’s really nerdy and doesn’t think he has a chance with her. Then there is Jib, the guy with a crush on his best friend’s mom, because she’s the first real woman he’d ever seen. And then there is the appreciation for Diggy’s confidence and excitement in doing the grown-up things many people have always wanted to do. 

Shameik Moore beautifully portrays the naivete of Malcolm without ignoring the more serious elements of the character. The best scene of the entire film may be its final sequence. The montage is a way for the audience to look back to some scenes they may have missed, like the one where Malcom shakes hands with Will while holding the USB drive with information that could single-handedly destroy AJ’s career. It seemed like the montage of a spy movie, when they’ve caught the killer and are showing all of the ways in which it was coming. It was cool, thrilling, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before in a coming-of-age teen movie. Dope makes the viewer laugh, feel good, roll their eyes, and even bop their head a little. 

Speaking of bopping heads, the musical element of this film was kind of random, and sometimes it felt like it was just another added element that didn’t necessarily have to be there. However, it wasn’t all about the music. This is a story about friends coming together and doing things they really love. Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope is another masterfully directed film, making the viewer wish they had a friend group like Malcom’s!

About Rabiah Na’Allah

Rabiah Na’Allah and is a second-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Graphic Design and Cinema. She is from Peoria, Illinois, and the self-proclaimed middle child of three sisters. Rabiah is heavily involved in the University of Iowa Honors Program and serves as an Honors Outreach Ambassador and leader on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion council. She is involved in various organizations on campus including the Muslim Student Association, African Student Association and Student Advocates of Planned Parenthood. When she’s not working at school, you can find her doing photography, volunteering at a number of student productions through the Theater program, analyzing her favorite movies, or binge-watching Criminal Minds.