“Rick Famuyiwa is one of the most profitable voices in African American cinema at the box office with such titles as The Wood ($6M cost, $25M domestic) and Brown Sugar ($8M cost, $27.4M domestic). However, when he went to shop his comedy Dope about a high school senior’s zany mission to escape the confines of his Inglewood, CA urban neighborhood for the Ivy league walls of Harvard – think Martin Scorsese’s After Hours meetsClueless but in a different L.A. environ — the major studios, who’ve lately doted on African American romantic comedies, didn’t get it. So Famuyiwa and producers Forest Whitaker and Nina Yang Bongiovi, who were behind 2013 indie hit Fruitvale Station, made Dope their way, outside the studio system. In the end, Famuyiwa got everyone hooked on his feel-good teenage tale.
The Sundance premiere yielded a fierce bidding war among Weinstein Co., Fox Searchlight, Focus Features and A24 with Open Road and Sony winning rights in a $7M MG deal and a $15M P&A. Dope is now being passed around on a worldwide buzz tour. It hit the Croisette as the Directors’ Fortnight closing title where it received a lively standing ovation on Friday. Dope is also making stops at colleges around the nation, and it will play the Los Angeles Film Festival before opening against Walt Disney Pixar’s Inside Out on June 19.
“Malcolm, the main character, is definitely a kid modeled on myself,” says Famuyiwa who like Malcolm transcended his Inglewood neighborhood aka The Bottoms. “Malcolm’s point of view is one of my own, not wanting to be defined or categorized. He was definitely my double on screen.”
Famuyiwa sat down with Deadline at the Hotel Gary d’Albion bar in Cannes to discuss how Dope was made.
RICK FAMUYIWA: It starts with the idea of Black cinema itself. Part of the problem is that it’s thought of as something specific, niche and small. I think Black cinema is thought of in small terms. That’s where most of the problems come from. When there’s a film that has success, like in the ’90s with the crime hood films; when one of them does well, it becomes the replication, or there’s a romantic comedy that breaks out, it becomes a singular way of looking at it. (The thinking is that) there can only be one representation at a time – it’s like they’re reading tea leaves on what Black people want. What should be driving the conversation is: What’s the story? What’s the movie about? Is it a compelling story?
And if it is, then you make it regardless of the color of the people behind or in front of the camera…”