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Dope (2015) and Self-Discovery

The Black voice has carried many different sentiments and styles as it has found its way through modern America. What this presents is a cornucopia of lives harvested from all different fields, pastures, plains, groves, thickets, etc. When starting my viewing of Dope, I expected to be subjected to a special viewing of Menace 2 Society guest starring Urkle, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the film depict a part of Black culture I thought I would never see on the screen.

The movie centers around a group of friends; Malcolm, Diggy, and Jib, who reside in a rough neighborhood in Inglewood, California. The three initially met at a band camp, which is like cementing a “kick me” sign onto your personality in most colored neighborhoods, but they wear it as a plastic badge of honor. They solidified their shared interest by forming the band “Awreooh”, an obvious play on the term “Oreo” – something I won't have to explain if you have ever attended a public school and sported melanated characteristics alongside basic grammatical correctness. What we see here are the curtains finally drawn upon the, often disproven, stereotype that black instrumentalists only originate from wealthy households.

Personally, I don’t think it would be unfair to say that black/multicultural music holds a major influence over the industry as a whole. Yet, somehow it consists primarily of Hip-Hop and trap music that highlights a struggle that the artists escaped from by promoting the negatives of the lifestyle they once lived, as a means of escape. The culture is shoved into a spotlight and forced to read a teleprompter inscribed, “all these drugs ruined my health, the paranoia took my family and friends, the love faded the more I succeeded, isn’t this cool?” While those who heed the artist’s out-of-the-studio advice of keeping safe and finding your real passions are considered the weaker end of the spectrum.

Malcolm and his friends share a love of comic books, video games, and 80’s fashion to juxtapose themselves from the rest of the ‘crowd’. The struggles of the impoverished community appear not to affect them from the outside looking in, but the film takes careful note in making sure that none of their surroundings match what they truly aspire to be, which embodies the active strive to escape a low-income lifestyle, if you ask me.

Struggle- defined as the effort made to work to maintain the bare minimum - has been monetized by what would be the most ‘entertaining’ or ‘hype-worthy’. Kids like Malcolm might be seen as low priority impoverished since he didn’t self-develop the urgency to run into houses or sell drugs to make ends meet. We witness how the lower end of the socio-economic class can continue to marginalize themselves within their own communities by picking out the vulnerable, the unrecognized, the unaffiliated, and the ‘undetermined’ just to make an example of how not to struggle.

We see their band, Awreooh, subject to constant bullying, ostracization, and terrorizing conducted by almost every present character just to demonstrate how the term ‘confidence is key’ does not represent handy advice, but a cautionary tale regarding what might happen if an individual or group does not present themselves as a “threat” first. Those who do not jump at the chance to enact violence are only regarded as walking targets for people whose trauma took their hearts from them. This fuels the cycle of self-destruction the community faces presently. Dope casts many stones at the idea that struggle is a color, wears a color, or targets a color.

Repression from desire is a heavy theme in the movie. The band is subjected to a multitude of decisions where they must do unlikely or undesired actions just to maintain normalcy. Malcolm regularly runs from bullies in school to keep his shoes and bike away from gangsters who make attempts to steal them and gets coaxed around by the ‘big fish’ of his hood to keep his sense of safety.

A lot of pent-up aggression towards the world goes into their music, mixing sounds from heavy rock, alternative-pop, techno-rave, melodic trap, and a couple of other genres that I would need to hear in the moment to recognize. Booming instrumental kicks and lyrics that repeat lines like “I'm not in the mood!!” and “adrenaline” to build up the listeners' aggression, embody the teen spirit of wishing to be unbothered; commanding rather than conforming.

Without making this a synopsis, I just want to say that the feeling I get seeing our protagonists struggle through their predicament felt refreshing. I wasn’t watching violent shootouts and carjackings that paint my people as the non-idealistic sort that resort to crime when all else fails. It's a breath of fresh air that highlights the crucial undertone of systemic racism that most “make it out of the hood” movies forget to add; that it wasn’t our idea to get us there in the first place.

Dope symbolizes a lot of underrepresented black culture that gets smothered by high-testosterone pop media; “a black man must be a strong, gun-toting, womanizing, take-no-shit desperado” to be recognized. Put a camera in front of a man destroying himself for views and he will garner more attention than a man filming the progress he’s making for his own benefit.

Malcolm finds out who he is and how he plans to hit his stride with one line presented to him:

You always had a choice.”

Which I believe is an imperative lesson to teach to growing Afro-Americans. When odds are stacked against you it doesn’t come down to money, influence, looks, or any surface-level subject, but it’s your actions and attributes that define you. If you feel trapped then let your feelings out, if you feel lost then find your way through, if you feel misunderstood then locate your people, and if all those are still hard for you to navigate for now, then find yourself.

That’s all for now, thanks for dropping in. Peace and love.

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