- Katie Bell
Dolemite Is My Name - 2019
Updated: Apr 26, 2020
As Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) along with his cast and crew, ride to a showing of their film Dolemite in 1975, they read reviews aloud to one another . "Dull-emite," one author proclaims. Their initial reactions say it all and my heart sinks. Oh God! What have we done? Why do we write Inconceivable! Reviews. Sure, we were never around to write that Dolemite is dull, but what if Tom Hooper and his creatives, read our review of Cats? Did it tear them apart (Lisa)? WHAT HAVE WE DONE?
These are the thoughts that ran through my head for a few seconds during this scene of Dolemite is my Name. Then I thought, what the hell! I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing, because whilst Cats received a lot of negative criticism from me, and that may have hurt Hooper's feelings, I find it incredibly important that I write about how magical Dolemite is my Name is. I guess, "you win some, you lose some," is relevant here? Or maybe I only empathise when I can see the actual human reactions to my writing. Whatever the case, here are my true and honest thoughts about Craig Brewer's Dolemite is my Name.
This film is set in the 1970s. It starts by establishing Rudy Ray Moore as a hard-working individual; someone who has struggled to find success, but has never stopped trying. Early in the film, Rudy states, "How'd my life get so damn small," and we feel for him. Of course (and I suppose it's a spoiler, but it's also in the history books), the film then goes on to explore Moore's eventual rise to success (not without struggle) and his becoming of a household name within the blaxploitation film industry. This film establishes the time period well, everything from the font, to the soundtrack screams 70s. Furthermore, the costuming and the sets work well to encapsulate this world. These all seem like no-brainers, but this film isn't just well-designed, it's fun to watch. I found myself smiling through the opening titles, already filled with the understanding that this was going to be a good watch.
The performances are really good. Da'Vine Joy Randolph's performance as Lady Reed is particularly enjoyable. Towards the end of the film, before riding in the car to watch Dolemite on the big screen, Lady Reed pulls Rudy aside and thanks him for including her, before saying, "coz I ain't never seen nobody that looks like me up there on that big screen". When watching on a television, at home in 2019, this line still holds relevance. It's true, we have travelled a distance since the mid-70s, however we still have a long way to go in terms of diversity in films. Hollywood continues to create a great deal of movies that contain a predominantly skinny, caucasian cast, so this statement by Lady Reed holds an undeniable poignancy and relevance to the current climate. This year alone, I've seen dozens of articles written on the topic. When Randolph delivers this line in Dolemite is my Name, it almost feels meta, and I really liked the meta-vibes.
Finally, the aspect of this film that I enjoyed the most (crazy as it seems) is that as I was watching, I felt like Dolemite is my Name was breathing new life into the blaxploitation genre. It seems silly to admit, but during university I studied the history of television and film (albeit briefly). and the blaxploitation subgenre was a part of my studies. I watched a lot of these films, including (but not limited to): Black Caesar, Black Mama, White Mama, Blackenstein, Blacula, Boss Nigger, Scream Blacula Scream, Shaft and Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. In 2014, I even considered donating to an Indiegogo campaign, supported by Fred Williamson, to make Original Gangstas 2: Old School Gangstas. Unfortunately, it never got off the ground and is still listed on IMDB as being "in development". It's true that in the 21st century, there have been plenty of films created in the style of this subgenre, but I know a great number of people who have never heard the word "blaxploitation", let alone understand what it means or why it came about. It was refreshing to watch Dolemite is my Name, which mentions a lot of the blaxploitation movies of the 20th century, and additionally, a lot of the people who worked hard to make them. I truly hope that there is a large portion of people, who after watching Dolemite is my Name, head out and watch some of the other films mentioned within it. They probably aren't easy to get your hands on these days, but if you're in Brisbane City...try DVD King (not at all sponsored by DVD King - just trying to help blaxploitation films get out there).
I enjoyed this movie. It has a great cast who deliver really engaging performances and it takes a dive into a small portion of film history which should not be forgotten. If you like a good biopic, definitely give this one a try (and hopefully it inspires you, at the very least, to watch Dolemite).