Dolemite Is My Name

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Devotees to “the Godfather of Rap” will find a lot to enjoy in Craig Brewer’s Dolemite Is My Name (despite some flaws concerning the order of events and which scenes appear in which Rudy Ray Moore film). The film isn’t so much a biopic of the late Rudy Ray Moore (brilliantly portrayed by Eddie Murphy in the film) as it is an account of the genesis of one of the great American pop culture icons of the twentieth century. Dolemite Is My Name is an ode not only to Black cinema of the 1970s, but outsider art in general.

The obvious comparison to make is to look at Dolemite Is My Name (2019) side by side with Tim Burton’s Ed Wood (1994). Despite superficial differences, each film glamorizes and celebrates the triumph of an “outsider” in Hollywood at the expense of any real thoughtfulness as to the nature of these artists and their works. Both Rudy Ray Moore and Ed Wood, in these two films, are amateurs at filmmaking, each has a surrogate family that makes up the cast and crew of his pictures, each is producing films of a specific genre with a precise demographic in mind, and each man is seemingly incapable of any form of self criticism. Brewer and Burton depict the productions of Plan Nine From Outer Space (1959) and Dolemite (1975) as home movies that were lucky enough to find longevity in the form of a committed cult following.

For Tim Burton these broad simplifications work in tandem with the design of Ed Wood so as to render the film as a kind of approximation of Wood’s own style; as if Ed Wood had made a “movie memoir”. Maybe Bowfinger (1999) and Showtime (2002) are associations that cloud an objective reading of Dolemite Is My Name, but it does seem that Brewer’s film avoids getting into the unofficial racial segregation of the entertainment industry of the 1970s that Dolemite is so clearly in opposition of. Instead painting with such broad strokes over sentimentalizes the narrative of Dolemite Is My Name to the point of whimsy.

Nothing can take away from Dolemite Is My Name its sense of immediacy and relevance. A celebration of art, especially Black art, is needed today more than ever. And the recuperation of a Black cultural hero (Rudy Ray Moore) in the public consciousness is perhaps of even greater importance as we continue to revise film history.