Let me get this out of the way first: I cried watching Dolemite is My Name. There’s nothing tragic or melodramatic about the story, and nothing really sad happens either. But I cried because the film is about the joy and exuberance of creativity and entrepreneurship and community, and it’s hard not to shed tears of happiness when you get a chance to share something so wonderful.
I’m sure everyone has a “I first watched Dolemite when I was a kid” story so I’ll spare you mine as it’s not really interesting unless you’re my mom and wondering how I ever got to see these kinds of R-rated films as a kid. Suffice to say, for those of you who haven’t had the opportunity, Dolemite is one of the best blaxploitation films out there, and part of the reason is that it doesn’t really take itself too seriously. Even as a kid, I knew this was a bunch of people who knew that they were doing something fun. Take a look for yourself below with the original trailer:
Dolemite is My Name has the same exuberance of the original film (although it’s paired with much, much, much higher production quality and better acting). I’ve always had a soft spot for Eddie Murphy–Delirious and Raw were the first stand-up specials I’d ever seen, Coming to America is a classic that I recommend to everyone, and Boomerang was one of the defining films of my adolescence, not to mention that it was also responsible for “End of the Road”, which I listened to nonstop as a teenager. So, yes, I’m a stan, and I’m so glad to see Eddie as Rudy Ray Moore. The ups and downs of Eddie’s life and career have toned down his brashness a lot, and while I have mixed feelings about that, he’s replaced it with a gravitas and gentleness that he wears well, especially in this film. This isn’t to say that the glee that Eddie is known for has been lost, it’s just a lot more refined now. And really, it’s so hard not to be swept along when you can tell that Eddie is enjoying himself.
(I also have to add that Wesley Snipes is SO GOOD in this film and gives the second-most enjoyable performance after Eddie. I’ve always thought of him as a weighty actor with a really commanding presence but he is so hilarious here as the slightly fey artiste D’Urville Martin.)
Rudy Ray Moore escaped from the backwoods of Arkansas to become somebody in Los Angeles, and I’m so glad that this isn’t one of those vengeance “told you so” films. Rudy chose to just leave the past in the past and just work at doing everything he could to be someone bigger than he is. It’s really admirable, especially because he wants to do the same for other people, like Lady Reed (Da’Vine Joy Randolph), a woman he befriends and takes under his wing as a protege and partner.
There are plenty of things to discuss about Dolemite is My Name, but I’m sure that black Americans are much better suited to write about the socio-cultural issues that produced Dolemite as a character and the discrimination that made it difficult for Rudy to distribute his comedy albums and films.
However, what I do want to point out here is the power of good marketing and how it’s closely tied to resourcefulness and community. Dolemite is an example of what you can achieve when you appeal to a specific group of people instead of trying to please everyone. Rudy created Dolemite for a specific black and urban audience, and the support he got from that core group helped him reach a wider audience.
It’s also a testament to creative marketing: when no one wants to produce and distribute Rudy’s first Dolemite comedy album, he decides to sell it himself. He packages them as though they’re contraband–buying a Dolemite album feels like an act of rebellion and edginess. Later, Rudy passes out flyers and connects with black communities to promote his film. I love seeing this kind of grassroots promotions, especially since nowadays, everyone seems to over-rely on digital means.
All in all, the film is such a delight that I’ve watched it three times already since it came out. There’s just something so refreshing and beautiful about a protagonist who is good-hearted, earnest, and sincere–and absolutely triumphs.
“Shoot for the moon, and if you miss it, hang on to a motherfucking star.”