Dolemite Is My Name

If you’re not familiar with Dolemite, rapper/comedian Rudy Ray Moore’s raunchy story-telling pimp character, Dolemite Is My Name is the perfect introduction. It’s a biopic whose focus is the year 1975: the year Rudy Ray Moore’s unorthodox and unlikely dreams of show business success came true.

Eddie Murphy is resplendent as the pimp-suited, afro-wigged, walking stick-carrying Dolemite. “Doughy” though he may be, his infectious energy, willingness to please and shit-eating grin are infectious—and perfectly aligned with Moore’s well-known over-the-top persona.

“Dolemite” (1975) is a super low-budget cult film that became a hit with African American audiences and spawned a sequel. A hodgepodge of the popular blaxploitation films it aligned with—Shaft, Super Fly, Coffy, the picture’s success elevated Moore from sewer-mouthed “party record” recording artist (and daytime record store manager) to American B-movie star and cultural icon. It is Rudy Ray Moore’s Dolemite character and film that many of today’s rappers cite as their premier inspiration.

My Name Is Dolemite tells the story of the making of that film; its origins; Moore appropriated a wino’s popular raunchy stories and rhymes, it’s genesis; ten studios turned it down, it’s last-chance significance; Moore surrendered all his recording royalties in exchange for financing, and its theatrical debut; a glamorous opening night at Hollywood’s Pantages theater.

Wesley Snipes plays D’Urville Martin, a popular blaxploitation character actor whom Moore invites to make his directorial debut. Snipes is superb and unsparing in his portrayal of the affected, alcoholic actor/director who believes that Moore’s film is beneath him. Keegan-Michael Key plays Jerry Jones, “Dolemite’s” scriptwriter; a serious playwright willing to give an ambitious brotha’ a chance. And Da’Vine Joy Randolph plays Lady Reed, Dolemite’s “plump but pleasing” sidekick. On hand in cameos are Snoop Dog, Chris Rock, and Tip “T.I.” Harris.

Dolemite Is My Name is the rare film that gets everything right. It’s funny and informative but also spot on. The clothes are right, the cars are right, the language is right, the wigs are right and the cross referencing leaves no stone unturned (“Blackenstein” a super-low budget black-cast Frankenstein was in theaters at the time; Diana Ross was on the cover of Ebony at the time).

Screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood), and Director Craig (Hustle & Flow) Brewer have thrown everything they could into this film—just like Moore himself would have. There’s nudity, sex, foul language, rappin’ n’ rhymin’ standup routines, Karate fights, boardroom shenanigans, car chases, shoot-‘em-ups, and even a disembowelment—check the trailer! There are also some unexpected poignant moments: Lady Reed’s confession and appreciation; Dolemite’s recognition that he’s not sexy.

If there’s anything missing it might be the lack of Moore’s backstory. We meet him as he’s closing in on fifty: his best years are behind him. We love him just as he is but what was it like growing up in Fort Smith, Arkansas? What was his experience serving in the US Army? And what about his later years—and later film successes (he died in 2008 at 81)? My Name is Dolemite ends where Rudy Ray Moore’s film career begins.

Blessed with original music—Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” Sly and the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” as well as some of Moore’s original spoken/rap routines including the seminal “Signifying Monkey,” Dolemite Is My Name is a crowd-pleaser in a way that the original Dolemite film was. It’s an underdog-finally-gets-his-day-in-the-sun-film that’s all the more significant when you consider the insurmountable odds, setbacks, troubles and prejudices that a plain-faced, dark-skinned, pot-bellied, 47-year old black man was sure to face along the way.

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Josiah Howard

Josiah Howard is the author of four books including “Blaxploitation Cinema: The Essential Reference Guide” (now in a fourth printing). His writing credits include articles for the American Library of Congress, The New York Times and Readers Digest. A veteran of more than one hundred radio broadcasts, Howard also lectures on cinema and is a frequent guest on entertainment news television.

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