zoë kravitz on prejudice, sexiness and starring in 'dope'

Following on from the fierceness of Fury Road, the daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet tries her hand at comedy in Dope.

by Kaleem Aftab
25 June 2015, 4:39pm

It's no surprise that Zoë Kravitz's mother, actress Lisa Bonet, never appeared in any 90s urban films like Friday, Boyz n the Hood, or Belly that hip hop comedy Dope purports to be inspired by--these female characters were so lacking. Given a the seemingly innocuous role of drug dealer's girlfriend, Zoë - fresh from tearing up Fury Road with Mad Max - delivers a complex performance that ensures her character Nakia is sexy, funny, intelligent and surprising. i-D caught up with her at Cannes about fetishization, being put in a box and having Lenny and Lisa as parents.

Did you like the 90s urban films that Dope is inspired by?
Friday is one of my favorite films. I can quote that entire film.

Was that why you wanted to be in Dope?
That was part of the reason. I definitely saw a quality that those films had, that I hadn't seen in a long time in this script. It definitely influenced me a little bit.

Nakia is so different from the roles you have played before. Did that make the preparation harder? Was there anything unique that you had to do?
Sometimes it's easy to play a version of yourself, but I was trying to serve the story and see what Nakia was bringing to the story, I guess by speaking to Rick [Famuyiwa, the director] and working with Shameik Moore [who plays Malcolm]. I think she serves as a bit of a mirror to Malcolm's character. I think she is someone that has also been told what not to do and she's been beaten down a little bit more than Malcolm has. She's maybe starting to believe that she has these limitations. I think Malcolm still has this spark, this fight, that she doesn't have anymore, and he encourages her to aim higher.

The film highlights how prejudice continues to operate today. What is your own experience with that?
It's very real. You know, the idea of being told what you can and cannot do, what you are, what you're supposed to like, what kind of music you're supposed to listen to, what clothes you're supposed to wear. That is very real. So that was something that, when I saw this movie, I identified very much with.

And is there a similar prejudice that comes with being a daughter of famous parents?
Ah yeah, it's the same thing that comes when people project certain ideas of what you should be, what your relationship is like with your family and that you get things easily, so you're automatically a brat. I ignore it. People are always going to say all kinds of stuff and you have to know your intentions and try to keep that truth very close to you.

The film is about dispelling stereotypes. What do you think about the stereotypes of your character?
Those female characters in film - especially if they are the love interest - are one-dimensional and I think that Rick did a really good job of adding different layers to Nakia. I feel like Nakia is presented first as the pretty girl in the neighborhood and once you get to know her, there's more going on. There's a multi-layered person, especially a woman, and I see myself there.

There is a line in the film when one of the students says he wants to fulfill his dream of sleeping with a black girl. Do you think that fetish is legitimate?
Everyone can be fetishized. Women are often fetishized. People fetishize each other and I'm sure that I've had that kind of experience, not just in a sexual way but in my career too. 

In what way?
Those are the roles that I say no to because those characters are not interesting to play. Specifically in black cinema, I've been seeing the same characters and the same roles being played over and over again and I personally don't relate to that story and it's made me kind of sad. As an actor, I would like to engage a lot more with the black community and make black art because I think there is so much to offer there, but unfortunately I see the same story being told over and over again. When I read this script, it actually spoke to me, but when I see other scripts and I think, "Oh this is the black girl role", then automatically I'm bored.

What was the most difficult scene for you to play in this film? You have so many different types of scenes and emotions to play.
For me, the most emotional scene is when me and Malcolm are studying and I start telling him about Rocky's character when he was in jail and you get a glimpse of what her life was like. She covers it up with a smile but it slips out a little bit because she kind of goes from one place to another quickly. That shift for me, trying to get that right, was difficult.

Your character goes from extreme sexiness, to extreme ridiculousness, to tenderness. Did you have different approaches on those days?
No. I mean I have all those qualities, people have all those qualities. They are all things that live within and people can shift from one place to another very quickly and you don't often see many qualities from a woman in a film because people don't write characters that way.


Text Kaleem Aftab

Zoë Kravitz
mad max
Lenny Kravitz