The other day, I watched a movie that was almost the exact opposite of my favorite movie of all time.
One is black, the other white.
One is present day, the other 1959.
One is inner city, the other is small town.
But, strangely enough, they have the same theme at their heart.
Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his buddies, Diggy and Jib (Kersey Clemons and Tony Revolori) are geeks. They’re dorks. They’re nerds. They’re into old school hip-hop and getting good grades.
In a mostly black, urban school with metal detectors and drug dogs at the entrance, that’s social suicide.
Malcolm is the smartest of his crew and he really does have a chance to get into Harvard. But he has to write his entrance essay, first. The one that he wrote about Ice Cube probably won’t cut it, though. His life experience is pretty nil, so he doesn’t want to write about that.
When he gets caught up with the local drug dealer, Dom (A$AP Rocky), that might just change. How do a bunch of nerds handle getting shot at, though.
This seems like a really silly fish-out-of-water comedy. Really, that’s exactly what it’s not. Sure, Malcolm and his friends aren’t in their normal pool, but they’re certainly still in water. They know that this is their life. They are in the ghetto. They know that every corner could be their last. They strategize their bike rides home from school specifically so that they can avoid the drug dealers and the gangs. They regularly get their shoes stolen.
And they almost get caught up in the world they’re trying to escape.
Dope really shows how easy it is for the smartest of kids get thrown into a world that they should never have any dealings with. Because, really, it doesn’t matter how hard Malcolm works or how smart he is. He comes from a ghetto school, so he has almost no chance of getting into a good college, much less Harvard. Even his guidance counselor tells him that he should just try for a community college. You see, it’s not just money that’s a problem, but it’s racism. If he had been white, those doors would have opened wide.
I love this movie. It’s a smart, funny, moving vision of how the system is rigged. But, maybe, if you keep your heart and your humanity, you can rig the system right back.
STAND BY ME (1986)
Directed by Rob Reiner
Written by Raynold Gideon/Bruce A Evans
Based on a novella by Stephen King
It’s 1959, and four friends set out on the road to see a dead body.
Gordie (Wil Wheaton) is the smart one. He’s a writer who sees the story in everything. But he loves his down on their luck friends so much that he doesn’t want to leave them behind. Not even for better classes at their school. Chris (River Phoenix) is the tough guy. He’s got a heart of gold, but everyone judges him by his creep older brother who did everything wrong. So, obviously, Chris is a horrible person, too. Teddy (Corey Feldman) is crazy. He loves his abusive father to a fault and will do just about anything on a dare. Vern (Jerry O’Connell) is the dumb one. He’s a fat kid who can never remember the secret knock. And his contribution to the trip is a comb.
Stand By Me may take place in a different time from Dope, but it’s still about a group of friends with troubles who are on a quest. It’s still a coming of age film with a strong message at its center.
As I said, Gordie is a smart kid. Everyone loves his stories and they look up to him for that reason. He and his family are what we would consider today middle class. Chris and the other boys, though, are definitely lower class. The tragedy is that Chris is super smart. He could make it in the more advanced classes that Gordie is about to go into, but he’s already so beaten down, even at age 12, that he won’t try. He knows that everyone at school thinks he’s a loser, so he might as well always be a loser.
Here, it’s not racism that keeps a smart kid down. it’s classism.
This movie has been my favorite for a long, long time. But I think that it really took seeing Dope to bring out this aspect of it.
At first, I thought that the two films were as different as can be. It turns out, though, that the message is the same: Never sell a kid short. Don’t turn your back on them just because they come from a place without privilege.
It doesn’t matter who they are. They deserve a chance.