Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope is a film about life in Los Angeles as seen through the eyes of three teens in the suburb of Inglewood. High school life has long been a popular theme in youth fiction, especially with the trials and adventures of being teenagers in middle-class, White America. But this film takes all mischief and hijinks and  recasts them in a rich and complex story about the after-school lives of three African American young people.

Malcom (Shameik Morre) and his two friends, Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kersey Clemons), have formed a punk band, are picked on by bullies, and show to be pretty good computer hacks, as well — all styled with 90s hip-hop. This combination brings a rare mix of ironies that make for a compelling plot. We get to know generally happy kids that live in what is called “the hood,” with rich experiences, complicated lives, romances, and anxieties of teen years, but without the sanitized world of Happy Days.

The film doesn’t fall back on social and sexual stereotypes of becoming a teenager, but it unpacks them as the rich and complicated slices of life they are. Instead of Middle Class White kids hanging out at a mall, this film has well-intentioned African-American teens who get caught in a battle between drug-dealers. They become wise quickly, however, and pull off a solution that seems as clever as something from Ocean’s 13.

This film would appeal to most anyone, but its sexual references and violence are not for kids. Nevertheless, go see it!

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