Dope received critical acclaim when it was released during this year’s Sundance Film Festival and later, in theatres. Not only did it provide a unique perspective of the atypical black nerd but also left audiences with a message of society’s misuse of the terms label and race.
Shamiek Moore plays Malcolm, a black teenager living in Inglewood, California. Inglewood is a hub for drugs, gangsters and violence but Malcolm has manged to separate himself from the gangster stereotype, becoming a 90s hip hop geek with musical talents and academic appeal.
You don’t see that often in a black movie.
But life in Inglewood eventually catches up to him and by the end of the movie, he has been forced to hustle drugs and teeter toward the edge of violence.
Dope, was a ‘dope’ movie, with a killer soundtrack, enjoyable characters and a somber tale of gang crime in Inglewood. But the movie had the most memorable portrayal of the vast difference between the terms label and race. A label in society is typically defined as a word or phrase descriptive of a person, group, intellectual movement. A race in society is typically defined as a group of people identified as distinct from other groups because of supposed physical or genetic traits shared by the group.
So, why are people using the terms interchangeably? In my opinion, this is what Dope explores.
Malcolm was not only a straight A student and 90s hip hop geek but he was also black. His interests in video games, movies not Spike Lee directed and Game of Thrones are not typical of the black man. His interests in achieving greatness through Harvard and not drug peddling is just as atypical. Malcolm and his friends were the epitome of a black ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ premise. And in mainstream society, a black geek–no matter our evolved era–is still rare.
But instead of being admired for his uniqueness, Malcolm is labeled an ‘oreo’: black on the outside with ‘white interests’ in the middle and is not taken seriously by his fellow black peers.
As I watched Malcolm’s struggle with the label, I thought to myself, This sounds familiar.
Like America, Jamaica has its own status quo for a black woman and I am quite far from it. For example, people identify Jamaicans with the dialect, Patois. I can speak it but in normal conversation, I choose to carry on in our official language, standard English. Throughout my childhood, I was considered ‘proper’ because I didn’t speak Patois often. Add American cable television in my formative years along with my tendency to geek out on pop culture and I was suddenly labeled a ‘white’ black girl. Or an ‘oreo’.
I have always taken the label in stride, but all teasing aside, it is a misrepresentation of who I really am. It’s a misrepresentation of who Malcolm is as well. ‘Black’ nerds and geeks should not be considered an anomaly in society. Why should race determine our interests? Why should race define who we want to become and how we get there?
In Dope, Malcolm only became a drug peddler through blackmail, not self-fulfillment. Let’s remember that, people. The boy felt he was good enough to go to Harvard. Even his so-called guidance counselor didn’t believe in him. He didn’t need drug money to define his importance. Too many times a black man thinks he is a ‘victim’ of his race.
You’re not a goddamn victim, you just think you’re too ‘white’ for ambition.
So what has Dope taught us? Malcolm labels himself a 90s hip hop geek, a straight A student and a Games of Thrones fan. His race is black because of his biological characteristics. That’s it. If you want to delve into his background, his lifestyle and how he interacts with his peers, that’s another term for another article.
Ambition, academia, interests, hobbies and jobs are, like Raven-Symone, colorless. And Malcolm sure as hell seems to think so.