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Dope jumps and jives much like the funky ’90s hip-hop it pays homage to. What’s more, it is a really important film for a variety of reasons. This is what independent cinema should be: a celebration, a revelation, of the disenfranchised. Not some quirky dramedy about a middle class white person “coming of age” or “finding themselves.” Writer/director Rick Famuyiwa crafted a hilarious and thought provoking film about a couple of kids who feel they don’t belong which, in the end, says more about race and filmmaking than any other movie this year.

The main character, Malcolm Matacondi (played by newcomer Shameik Moore), is at odds with his time. Rather than listening to the modern musings of say, Young Geezy or Two Chains, as many of his classmates do, he prefers the softer and melodic tunes of De La Soul or A Tribe Called Quest. Far from “geeky” in many other times or places, but in South Central Los Angeles in 2015, anything less than aggressive is passive — and passivity can get you killed in Malcolm’s neighborhood.

The fact that he is so at odds with his time makes his story so universal, especially in the current state of our culture. Speaking with Famuyiwa, he looked at our Throw Back Thursdays and obsession with vintage clothes and decided to infuse that sentimentality into his film. “I was inspired by this young generation coming up that was speaking with an interesting and unique voice but also connected to my generation too. Particularly when I was listening to the music — Kendrick Lamar and Odd Future — and seeing they were from my neighborhood.” He continued, “Something in the air felt right to revisit some of the themes I’ve been dealing with in other films but to apply it to this generation.”

Much like Malcolm, the filmmakers, including producers Forrest Whittaker and Pharrell Williams, also found themselves at odds with their times. They quickly learned that Hollywood in 2015 didn’t care much about a character-driven story on aspirations to rise from the ‘hood to Harvard, infused with rap of the early ’90s.

Whittaker and Williams struck out at all the major and minor studios, despite Famuyiwa’s excellent track record as a safe bet for character-driven films with small budgets and large profits. “It was tough for him (Rick) to realize that these guys aren’t willing to bet on something unique” said producer Nina Bongiovi, who produced Fruitvale Station along with Forrest Whittaker.

Ironically, Whitaker and Bongiovi found their Asian backers to be the most receptive of the highly Americanized material and, along with Pharrell and Sean Combs, they were able to raise enough for production. Sundance Film Festival lived up to its beautiful role in the industry as it gave films like this a voice and caused distribution companies to fall over themselves in order to snatch it up and studios to kick themselves at missing out on the opportunity.

While validating for the filmmakers, it does serve as yet another indication of just how out of touch Hollywood can be. As independent cinema doing what it does best, Dope served as a check and balance to the studios formulaic approach to harvesting stories.

Delving deeper than just the music of the ’90s, Famuyiwa drew from the independent film movement of the same time period. A far cry from subtle Mumblecore, the style-de-jour on the festival circuit today, Dope has a vibrant color scheme, snappy dialogue, and sharp cutting which harks back to the grizzled days of Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino, and Kevin Smith. Famuyiwa explained, “I think there was a certain sense of style in the filmmaking and a sense of flair in the writing during the ’90s. And I think it was pushed by hip hop which was a big part of that time.”

He added that when asked about the comparisons between his film and those 20 years prior, “I think filmmakers like Tarantino really vibed with what was going on with black culture and took that energy and put it into his films. I wanted to pay homage to that.”

Dope has a loud perspective on race relations in America in that it didn’t acknowledge race relations in America. At least not until the last five minutes. It was not a Fruitvale Station in which you knew going in that this strong black protagonist was a victim. It was not like 12 Years a Slave in which a bright light was shined on the intensity of a past atrocity. You don’t watch these kids suffer because of their race. You just watch them suffer and overcome, which is the basis for any dramatic narrative.

This was thought about carefully and carried out delicately. Famuyiwa said, “We have this sort of warped point of view of young black men in this society, that you have 12 year old kids being killed by law enforcement because they say they felt fear or threatened. Where does that come from? It comes from the fact that you don’t see these kids as kids, you see them as something other. And so I wanted you to follow these kids in all their ups and downs. And then by the end of it just realize, ‘Oh yes, there are kids like these that die for many reasons and so much of it has to do with this idea and perception.’”

Famuyiwa portrays the kids in a way cinema has seldom done: as normal kids. It is an important step in black cinema, in having a film where “black” can adequately be dropped leaving only, “cinema,” and it makes sense that it came from an independent voice, which has and always should serve to push the envelope of cinema in a way the studios just can’t.