DOPE: My Experience

Dope (2015) Poster

I could do a movie review but there are people better experienced at it and would probably run circles around me.  Instead I’m going to talk about how I felt because this movie definitely made me feel something.  The entire experience involved in watching this movie made me feel something.  So I can talk about that and I can be confident that it’ll be both universal and simultaneously unique to me.  It’s the only thing that I think will allow me to do right by both the movie and my experience.

So I live in San Diego and while a diverse city, it can feel a bit lonely to be black here.  At least, in the part of town I live in it can.  I know there are black people, but I just haven’t found them yet.  Still, living in the wack part of town I stay in (I blame my roommate *side eye*) it can be a bit disheartening and you start to believe there really aren’t many of your own here in San Diego.  My obvious thought going into this advanced screening was that I would probably be one of ten people there and I’d be one of three black people.

I’ve never been so happy to be wrong.  Walking up to the theater I see this long line and all the people are holding folded up white pieces of paper.  I’m holding a white piece of paper…and I can feel my heart racing.  Are all these people here for this movie?  I get happy and then I panic because I was going to be pissed if I couldn’t get in.  Luck was on my side because there was plenty room so I slid into line.  I see young, I see old.  I see white…and hot damn I saw black.  A lot of black.

Pumped now, nobody could tell me nothing as they start letting us in.  I walk in and there’s a DJ.  A DJ playing hip-hop.  And not just hip-hop but 90s hip-hop.  People are dancing and just having a good time.  Even though I’m in the movie theater alone, I can’t help but to feel like its family.  It’s the feeling I’ve been missing for a minute and it feels good to have it back.   There’s a small introduction and the movie gets rolling.

The main characters are three friends; Malcolm, Dig and Jib.  They are the truest of friends that would go to hell and back for the other.  In my opinion, these three are right up there in the classic friendships of cinema and I hope they become a fixture as an example of friendship for years to come.  Dig and Jib are the kind of friends I wish I would have had in high school.  They stick with Malcolm through every single situation he faces in the movie, yet they never felt like sidekicks.  They were beautiful individuals full of life.

What I admired most about every single character in this movie is that they lived their truths.  They lived it unapologetically and without fear.  They owned every aspect of themselves even in the face of ridicule and shame.  As a society, people laugh at the nerds, the geeks and those who just don’t fit in while at the same time shouting for the rooftops to just “be yourself”.  It’s a hypocritical contradiction evidenced in every Facebook post that makes fun of an overweight person for loving food, that accuses people who love cartoons of being children, that shames the marginalized for embracing who they are.  I know this hypocrisy because I have faced it.

I know what it’s like to be that black kid who loves comics, mythology, science fiction, and fantasy novels.  For those interests I often find myself being told that stuff was for “white people”.  Then there were my interests in cartoons for which I’ve been called “immature”.  I remember I was in the 5th grade and I spent every free moment I had in the library.  Every week I had two or three different books I tore through and returned home.  Needless to say I got called a nerd and damn it I kept going to that library.  The stories I were reading stayed in my imagination too much to stay.  Looking back on it, I think that was my first “high” in life.  I spent so much time in that library, they made me an honorary library assistant and I actually was able to get out of class to help the librarians because my grades were good enough.

So I know Malcolm.  I know what it’s like to be a kid at a school where you don’t feel like you fit in.  My life had the added addition of me being a military brat.  So in the course of my life I’ve had at least 10 different schools where I had to go through the agonizing process of being recognized as an emotional, heart on his sleeve geek by all of my classmates.  So I know Malcolm, but he was better than me.  He accepted who he was and lived it out loud.   I didn’t accept who I was, but I just did a shitty job at trying to be anything else.

And then there’s Dig.  Oh God, how I love Dig.  Her spirit and her openness about her sexuality is everything I wish I could have had growing up.  Dig is exactly who I wished I could have been in school.  My education years were a place of fear, self-loathing and self-rejection because on top of my nerddom came a big whopping side of gay.  It felt like some cruel joke from the universe.  Not only am I a pitied nerd, but I’m a hated gay too?!  There were more than a few days I didn’t even think it was worth crawling out of bed.

But not Dig.  Not this girl.  She embraced it openly and unapologetically.  I can’t imagine how much more fulfilled my life would be if I had been able to just accept that part of me and give the rest of the world the middle finger.  Eventually, I was blessed to know that all of the people I consider my world loved me and didn’t give a damn.  But even now, I wish I had friends like Malcolm and Jib that were as nonchalant and easy going about it as they were with Dig.  It was never an issue in the movie that required deep breaths and hard conversations.  They never asked her awkward questions or tried to censor their conversation around her.  She was exactly who she was and they never needed or wanted an explanation for it.

These three teenagers deal with some serious topics in this movie.  They deal with violence, guns and drugs.  But not in your typical rap music video way or the way that Fox News would have you believe all young black kids deal with these issues.  And no I’m not saying they deal with these issues perfectly because honestly for some the stuff they did I’d beat my child’s behind.  What I am saying though is that they deal with these problems with unapologetic humanity.  They’re not monsters worthy of being shot down on sight.  They’re kids.  Beautiful, different kids, but still kids and the movie never loses sight of that.

And that my friends is dope.

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