Released: 25th October
Seen: 26th October
The 1970s was the era of the blaxploitation film. If you look up a list of blaxploitation movies they will list every year of the 70s with milestone movies like Shaft, Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song and Coffy. While these movies often featured racial stereotypes that might be termed problematic today, they’re also a subgenre of film that features an entirely black cast and often featured black directors and writers trying to make films for black audiences of the day. It was also a genre that made worldwide stars out of people like Pam Grier, Richard Roundtree and the subject of the newest Netflix biopic Rudy Ray White.
Rudy Ray White (Eddie Murphy) was willing to do anything to break into show business. He tried making soul records but they never went that far and so he wound up working in Dolphin’s of Hollywood record store. It’s while he worked there where he first heard stories from a local about a man named Dolemite. Hit with inspiration, Rudy turned those stories into a character and began touring and recording albums as the character, albums with names like “Eat Out More Often” or “This Pussy Belongs To Me” and album artwork that could best be described as softcore porn. They were albums so outrageous that stores wouldn’t carry them, so they were sold out of the boot of Rudy’s car to a very appreciative black audience. While Rudy’s work didn’t get much crossover, he managed to make a huge impact in his community and enough of an impact that eventually Rudy would try to make a movie about his character. Thus, Dolemite the movie was born and the majority of Dolemite is My Name explores the making of that movie and Rudy’s determination to rise to star status.
If you remember enjoying The Disaster Artist, another film about the making of an infamous movie, then you’re going to love this even more. This film is a celebration of a legend of black cinema, one that white audiences might not even know. It’s a testament to his determination to make it even when the system tries to keep his style of comedy out. When Rudy can’t find a door to get in, he kicks through a wall and makes his own door and tries to drag as many of his friends through the new door as he can. The most powerful moments are just watching when Rudy is almost defeated, either by debt or circumstances, and then he stops and thinks and finds a way to get to where he wants to be. Rudy wanted nothing more than to be famous and watching him do everything he needs to get there is exhilarating.
It’s helped by the fact that this movie probably has Eddie Murphy at his best. Eddie’s always been great, he was great the day he popped into our collective consciousness and has earned his spot in history, but this movie shows Eddie at his most refined. You can see every one of Eddie’s little performance quirks, from how he moves his eyes to the way he gestures. It’s all things we’ve seen before but here is where he has worked them into their purest form and uses them expertly to create this larger than life character. You can almost see a little bit of younger Eddie in the character of Rudy, someone who was going to make it in show business no matter what. Eddie just embodies that and is so comfortable in this role, it’s a joy to witness him making a big comeback and regaining a lot of the magic he had. He basically carries the entire movie on his pure enthusiastic charm and it’s a delight to watch.
All the actors are a delight, bringing to life some great people from history. From people in smaller roles like Chris Rock or Snoop Dogg showing off with quick roles that delight, to major players like Wesley Snipes who… Ok, he’s totally just redoing Noxeema from Too Wong Foo without the drag on but it’s genuinely perfect. The highlight of the supporting cast is easily Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Lady Reed who basically provides us with the thesis of this film in one very important scene where she flat out says “I’m so grateful for you putting me in this movie ‘cause I ain’t never seen nobody that looks like me up there on that big screen”. Da’Vine seriously needs to be the lead in something of her own, she’s insanely talented and the fact that she only has 4 film roles to her credit is a travesty, give her her own movie damnit! It’s a key element of the film, this need for representation in cinema that effectively leads people to find a way to put themselves on that screen so they could be there for younger audiences to see and dream. Lady Reed might be the one to say it explicitly, but you can see every other character clearly feels that need to be there as representation. They want to be on a screen that they normally wouldn’t be on, telling stories for and about people like them and it’s a powerful story that’s told wonderfully.
Dolemite Is My Name is a love letter to an icon of black cinema, not only singing his praises but introducing him again to a whole new audience who can appreciate him anew. It’s a story of determination, of someone finding a way in, regardless of the obstacles that society throws in their direction. It’s a genuinely great movie with Eddie Murphy giving his best performance in years, possibly ever, and screaming the need for more representation in cinema. It’s a great movie and thank god for that because I was genuinely getting tired of having to dunk on bad Netflix films. More like this please, a lot more films just like this one!