“Rick Famuyiwa was attending high school in the rough and tumble neighborhood of Inglewood, California in the early Nineties when a teacher he respected tried to cut him down to size. “When I was an aspiring kid and talking about my dreams, he called me arrogant,” he says. “‘Who do you think you are?’ It was during a parent-teacher conference, and he went on to say how I always answer the questions correctly in class and made the [other] students feel bad.” Famuyiwa pauses, then laughs. “My mother went off on him.”
It was that particular exchange that laid the initial groundwork for Dope, a wild-ride tale loosely based on the writer-director’s youth that became one of the break-out hits at this year’s Sundance. The story of a nerdy black high-school senior named Malcolm (newcomer Shameik Moore) who’s obsessed with Bush I-era hip-hop, the afro-punk band he’s formed with his fellow campus misfits and the girlfriend (Zoe Kravitz) of the local bigwig drug dealer (played by A$AP Rocky), the movie combines coming-of-age conventions, teen-comedy tropes and Pulp Fiction-style set pieces into a tale about thwarting expectations.
And yes, that exchange about “Who do you think you are” did indeed make it into the script.
“The perception of people of color — young black men — was very much on my mind making this movie,” Famuyiwa says. “You get to the point where you have 12 year-olds getting killed and the police officers that kill them say their lives were threatened. You sort of go, ‘Where does this shit come from…”