Dope: Its hard out here being a geek


I watched Dope on Sunday afternoon only a few hours before I gave a talk about the lack of black people in the technology sector at Afrofutures.

Malcolm is carefully surviving life in a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles while juggling college applications, academic interviews, and the SAT. A chance invitation to an underground party leads him into an adventure that could allow him to go from being a geek, to being dope, to ultimately being himself.

There is much I can say I loved about the film which currently has a rating of 7.5 on IMDB (stick that in your IMDB party game)

Warning mild spoilers ahead

Malcolm and his friends are teenagers growing up in LA, they are geeks, play in a rock band, get picked on at school, etc. You would be forgiven for thinking – “this is the start of a typical hollywood coming of age film..
The big difference is they are black americans and living in a culture which doesn’t encourage geekness.

The film starts with the excellent point of, looking at the definition of Dope.

  • Slang for an illegal drug (you got any dope?)
  • A stupid person (you are such a dope!)
  • Affirmation of something’s greatness (that is so dope!)

These themes run through the whole film and connect everything. Malcolm attempts to try and avoid being pulled into the society which surrounds him. There is no doubt this is a coming of age film but the class discrimination and racism really lifts it way above the rest. Even when Malcolm is forced into the world of drug dealing, he uses his brain to get out ahead of the crooked society.

I won’t lie, dope reminds me of some of the dilemmas I faced while growing up (of course to a far lesser degree). I use to think everybody faces these things but it seems not.  The conflict of being geeky and not wanting to make the mistakes others fall into featured in my mind a lot. I came out on top but like Malcolm, there are things which I won’t forget and certainly shaped my personality.

The presentation I did for Afrofutures is here., the link with Dope comes in about slide 18. I certainly feel its not good enough to blame the tech sector alone. No, we got to look at the the way things shake out in the culture too. Yes there is a big lack of black people in tech, especially in higher positions but also the culture doesn’t exactly encourage people to embrace our geeky side. Its almost discouraged I feel.

This has lines or connections I believe with the fact their are amazingly senior black people in many other professions including law,  financial services, pharmaceuticals, etc. But very few in the tech sector, especially at CEO level.

I know this is all a massive generalisation but from what I have seen growing up, it was a fight to be openly curious, interested and switched on or as I prefer, geeky. I imagine lots of black people bury it and ignore it. Or it gets beaten out of you at some point verbally or even physically. You literally have to fight. Some give up fighting and forever regret doing so for the rest of their lives…

When looking at the diversity figures, in every case I found. White people were followed by Asians people.  You only have to look at the CEO of Microsoft and Google to see this in full effect. From a outsider view, their culture encourages geeky people. However in black popular culture (generalising again) I am almost embarrassed by the negativity to being geeky and different.

Its was depressing to research but it was worth it because its out there now and its a start of a important conversation for me.

I can only hope the next generation will see right through all this all and make positive strides ending up with a diverse workforce. Originally I was going to submit this to Singleblackmale but I didn’t feel it was the right place to host this at this stage. Maybe I’ll do a more critical blog for them in the near future.

As the tagline to Dope says: Its hard out here being a geek…

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.

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