Originally published by Dante Orange on November 6, 2019.
What could I possibly say about a film like Dolemite Is My Name? For starters, it is in my opinion, the best feature Netflix has produced this year. In spite of unanimous critical acclaim, some moviegoers have had a mixed response to the picture as they were expecting more of a laugh riot, given the ensemble comic cast, as opposed to the grounded biopic they were given. The comedic spin is so effective that it keeps you hanging on to see what happens next.
Minor spoilers ahead!
This is the story of real-life comedian/filmmaker Rudy Ray Moore (1927–2008), portrayed onscreen by the great Eddie Murphy, in what’s being called a highlight of his career. Moore is a starving artist in the 1970s, longing to become a superstar by any means necessary. Throughout the course of his career — Moore has held jobs as a corny singer, a shake dancer, and a club emcee. However, Moore has grown disillusioned with his life having yet to achieve the success he’s always wanted. After listening to a rambling wino (Ron Cephas Jones) tell vulgar but comical rhyming stories about an urban hero known as “Dolemite”, Moore takes it upon himself to make Dolemite an actual physical character to portray in his comedy act. The character proves to be a smash hit, and with the help of his closest friends (<ahref="https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0732497/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Craig Robinson, Titus Burgess, and Mike Epps), Moore tours across the nation and becomes a roaring success. Along the way, he forms a close bond with brash single mother Lady Reed (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and brings her onboard as the sole female comic of the bunch.
After seeing an all-White movie that they don’t find amusing, Moore and friends decide to make their own movie based around Dolemite. Rudy enlists the help of new friend, Jerry Jones (Keegan-Michael Key) — a good-natured playwright to assist him in writing the screenplay. In a chance encounter, the gang meets actor D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes) and hire him as co-star and director in spite of his reluctance and overt arrogance.
I can say without question, that this is the first movie I’ve ever seen where art imitates life so much that I could 100% identify with it on a personal level. The predominately Black cast of characters are people with hopes, dreams, fears, and ambitions. This could’ve easily became a stereotypical mess given the fact that they’re mostly played by actors with a background in comedy, with the exception of Snipes, who does an excellent job at playing against type as an eccentric, but condescending prima donna. The idea that people of color can be self-reliant innovators is a powerful message to send to minority artists struggling to get their break. Titus Burgess, an openly gay actor, portrays the film’s sole homosexual character, who is arguably the most levelheaded and the furthest from being a caricature especially given the lighthearted tone and retro time frame where the LGBTQ community were still fighting for acceptance.
On a personal note — I’m able to relate to this film down to the T. A story about a Black filmmaker fighting tooth & nail to make his own path and bring his vision to life when all the doors are closed on him hits home. I’ve been struggling for years to bring my own ideas to fruition. Producers told Moore that his script wasn’t good, told him he had a product he couldn’t market, but because he was so determined to follow his passion: he never quit. When his film finally did see a wide release, the critics trashed it. Yet, regardless of all that he had to go through to make his film, it attracted an adoring audience who loved it and immortalized him as a legend. There’s a scene that brought tears to my eyes where Rudy tells a young fan “don’t ever let nobody tell you, you can’t be anything you wanna be”. When I heard that, for some reason, I no longer saw it as a performance. In my mind, I took it as Eddie Murphy — one of my heroes — speaking directly to me. If you want a movie that’s as inspiring as it is entertaining: Dolemite is his name, and making good movies is his game.