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Dope Film Review: Of Bitcoin, the Dark Web & The Inner City

Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:45 PM
Justin OConnell
Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:45 PM

The American crime comedy-drama Dope, written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa, stars Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemon, Kimberly Elise and A$AP Rocky. Produced by Forest Whitaker, Dope’s executive producer is Pharrell Williams and the co-executive producer is Sean Combs. The film’s first sentence is: “I just read money as we know it is dead, soon the world is only gonna sell and buy products using Bitcoins…” 

Main character Malcolm Adekanbi and his friends love the 90s, even though they didn’t live through them. Malcolm thinks records came out in the nineties, like The Blueprint, although they did not. He and his friends, Jib and Diggy, are bullied at their school in “The Bottoms,” a part of Inglewood, California outside of Los Angeles. The three friends are in a pop-rock band. Malcolm’s goal is to go to Harvard.  For his Harvard admissions essay, he wants to write on the topic,  “A Research Thesis To Discover Ice Cube’s Good Day.”


While walking around his neighborhood one day, a drug dealer on the street named Dom tells Malcolm to invite a girl to Dom’s birthday for him. Malcolm and his friends go to the party as well. At the party, in an interesting scene that stands out, Dom’s friends laugh about the use of drones. Dom says this is not funny, that’s it’s not only “Al Qaedas” who get killed. He also mentions the government said they could do the same to Americans.

During an MDMA deal at the party, infighting between gangs erupt and Dom sends Malcolm out after having filled the latter’s backpack with drugs and a gun. On the way into school the next morning, Malcolm’s backpack sets off the metal detector and a drug dog barks alarmingly at him. The security guard, knowing Malcolm as a good kid, assumes Malcolm has nothing to hide. At his locker, Malcolm looks into his backpack and finds the drugs. Malcolm then finds himself caught between rival drug dealers who know he has the MDMA. Because Dom is in jail after being arrested on his birthday, Malcolm comes to find himself in a position where he must sell the drugs.

As he and his friends discuss what to do, Diggy suggests going to Coachella and Lollapalooza to sell the molly. Malcolm hits on the idea to sell the drugs on the dark web for bitcoins. “There’s these sites where you can sell everything from credit cards to illegal guns and drugs, and they use bitcoins so they can’t be traced,” Malcolm explains.

“Way better than coachella, ‘cause the FBI can track us, the police,” says Diggy, mocking the idea.

“No they can’t, not if you use a Tor browser,” Jib claims.

As a Bitcoiner can tell, there is some confusion about how Bitcoin works in this film. Nonetheless, Bitcoin is portrayed mostly in an accurate manner.

The three turn to their friend Will Sherwood, a stoner, hacker, conspiracy theorist and entrepreneur. His big entrepreneurial idea is small batch craft malt liquor. William explains about Black Market Reloaded. Will helps the three get started on the dark net website and with Bitcoin. Ultimately, they learn that, in order to remain “anonymous,” they must sell the bitcoins on the black market for cash.

They do this deal at a fake purse manufacturer. The bitcoin buyer makes Malcolm punch him in the face so he knows he can trust him. Afterwards, he grabs a gun to Malcolm’s dismay, but finishes the deal without incident.

“Drive,” he says.

“Where,” Malcolm responds.

“Give me the drive,” the man says.

After the deal, the Bitcoin buyer says, “Now I know who you are, ‘A Man that does not give a fuck.”’ On the way home from the deal, Malcolm gets jumped by his school bullies. Bullies steal the purse with the cash but Malcolm pulls a gun on the group and tells them to give the bag back. They comply in what is a drawn out scene seemingly underscoring the reality that brandishing a weapon is some sort of rite of passage for some inner city black males.

In the film, there is a lot of Crip and Blood talk. The main characters, Malcolm Diggy and Jib seem to be pulled by two forces: the 90’s past of a hip hop prime they never experienced, and a future in which various worlds collide. During a heedful monologue at film’s end, in which he reveals his favorite band is The Thermals, Malcolm says: “When you don’t fit in, you’re forced to see the world from many different angles and points of view.”

One character’s purpose, who plays a law enforcement officer seemingly tracking the MDMA and Bitcoin transactions on the dark web, is never made clear. The movie suffers a bit from this loose end. Refreshingly outside of the Hollywood norm, Dope – which had a budget of just $700,000 – does not rely on its dope soundtrack to keep the audience’s attention. A nuanced and modern storyline tells the story of world’s colliding in the modern age, highlighting the character traits which go beyond skin color. 

Grade: B

Images: YouAreDope.com