Side Bar On Charleston: As one of the Nigerian-Americans in the community I feel like I should say something about the events of last week. I’m not going to do a full post on it because I don’t want to spiral down a rabbit hole of negative thoughts, anger, and sadness that something like this can still take place in this day and age. There’s already more than enough of that to go around. I can’t begin to imagine what life must be like for people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopalian Church must be like right now.
Black churches, especially in the American South are no strangers to this kind of violence. In the 1960’s, White Supremacists like the man whose name I will not mention, bombed a church in Alabama, ultimately killing four little girls. The annals US history are littered with similar stories too numerous and too painful to mention. But we all thought hoped those days were long gone. I guess we were wrong. Mother Emanuel, as it’s commonly called, is one of the oldest Black churches in America. It has seen everything from earthquakes and fires to laws that banned its existence. Through it all, Emanuel has survived. I can only pray that the community not only continues to survive, but thrive better than ever before.
It’s funny. After the first time I saw Brown Sugar, I thought that would be my absolute favorite film by the indie director Rick Famuyiwa for the rest of my life. After 13 wonderful years, it is time to take it off that pedestal. It will now be replaced by the surprise hit DOPE.
Aside: I’m way too excited about this film, but I promise to go easy on the spoilers.
DOPE tells the story of a young high school senior named Malcolm Adekanbi and his friends Diggy and Jib. They’re bonafide nerds, hardcore 90’s era enthusiasts, and unapologetic social outcasts biding their time in the ghetto until they go off to college. The film watches them struggle to maintain their sense of self while surrounded by drugs, failing school systems, gang violence, and just about every ill plaguing the life of a person struggling to make it up from the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.
The film is set in The Bottoms, a ghetto neighborhood in Inglewood, California. For those familiar with Famuyiwa’s work, this will probably come as no surprise. Because Famuyiwa grew up in Inglewood, the suburban city sometimes show up in his films. Owing to the deeply personal bond he shares with the city, he seems make the city a sort invisible cast member. He even goes as far as creating subtle cross-generational updates for elements from earlier works that featured the city.
The way Famuyiwa uses his Characters to narrate his stories was one of the things that made me fall in love with his early works like Brown Sugar and The Wood. Unlike those earlier films, DOPE is significantly less reliant on using any of his characters as narrators to propel the story forward. That’s not to say that he abandons his tradition of having a disembodied narrator; it’s just that this time, the narrator is a largely unrelated voice played by Forest Whitaker. What the film lacks in a strong narrative style, it makes up for in sharp, biting, witty commentaries on everything from socio-political issues to the cultural zeitgeist of the 90s hip-hop era.
All in all, the film is a whole lotta fun. The characters are fresh, compelling, and dynamic in every way. To quote one of my friends,
[DOPE] seems like what Boys in the Hood would have been if Cuba Gooding Jr had been more self-aware and gotten his hands on some coke. And if Lawrence Fishburne wasn’t in it.
I don’t know if the film is going to be released in Nigeria, but if you’re traveling through Europe or the US this summer, then you should definitely see it if you have the time.
Question: What movies are you most excited to see this summer?