Chris Lee
April 10, 2015 AT 12:00 PM EDT

STARRING Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Zoë Kravitz

DIRECTED BY Rick Famuyiwa



Call it an alternate-reality Boyz N the Hood. The indie comedy Dope follows Malcolm (Shameik Moore, see sidebar), a “geek” in a proto-punk trio whose dreams of escaping the mean streets of Inglewood, Calif., to attend Harvard are imperiled by a drug deal gone wrong. With its sly nod to ’70s blaxploitation films—as well as Tom Cruise’s teenage pimp in 1983’s Risky Business—the film connects cultural dots between the Deep Web and Yo! MTV Raps to present a cutting-edge slice of millennial life. Writer-director Rick Famuyiwa (The Wood, Brown Sugar) was inspired by post-gangsta-rap acts such as Odd Future and Kendrick Lamar. “It got me thinking about what it is to be a geek if you are a black kid in Inglewood or Compton or Detroit,” he says. Adds Moore: “This movie is going to give a new perspective on the black community in general.”

Almost every studio in Hollywood initially passed on the project. But it landed financing through producer Forest Whitaker (with rapper A$AP Rocky in a small role and Pharrell Williams writing and producing four original songs). Cut to: Dope sparking a bidding war at this year’s Sundance fest, where the same executives who snubbed the movie scrambled to acquire it. “It was sweet and sort of bizarre,” says Famuyiwa with a laugh. “Like, ‘I was in your office before!’ ” A triumph of Dope over dopes.

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