The opening scene of Eddie Murphy’s new biographical film Dolemite Is My Name finds an old and struggling record store employee named Rudy Ray Moore, who’s had dreams of stardom but never quite made it to the upper echelons, trying to convince Roj, an equally dismissed disc jockey (Snoop Dogg) to play one of his records. This song should have been a hit, he explains. This other one is a “catchy muthuh fucka!”
Snoop explains, “hey man, do you think I wanted to work at a ghetto record store as DJ? Sometimes our dreams just don’t come true.”
Rudy responds enthusiastically, “they still can!”
Roj replies sullenly, ‘nah, brother, we missed our shots.’
Anyone who’s ever been a fan of Eddie Murphy might see something a little autobiographical in that scene. Though the real life Moore had some success, Saturday Night Live alum Murphy was once the highest paid, most successful comedian in the world. Then, almost overnight, he dropped off the radar of most grownups. Doing a long series of kids movies and box office bombs made him one of the least bankable actors in the business.
Where the similarities begin is their rebound. Rudy reinvents himself. Eddie finally finds himself again. What results is a rousing comeback for both in a film that is both hysterical and inspirational. Before this film, I was only vaguely familiar with Moore but my formative years were filled with the early works of Murphy. So welcome back Eddie, we missed the hell out of you!
Directed by Craig Brewer and written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the film centers on Rudy Ray Moore, best known for portraying the character of Dolemite in both his stand-up routine and a series blaxploitation films.
Backstory: Drawing inspiration from a homeless street poet (Moore calls him a hobo) he invents a larger than life persona. Donning an afro wig and pimp suit. He stands on stage at a club he emcess at part-time and delivers the dirtiest rhymes anyone has ever heard over sexy R&B beats. Yes, true story. This was an early precursor to Rap! But he quickly learns early 70s America isn’t ready for his, um, special brand of humor, so he records his own albums and self-markets out of the trunk of his car and from under the counter of the record store he works at.
When he becomes successful on the club circuit, he decides to produce his own movie on a shoestring budget. The actual film, released in 1975, was initially turned down by distributors until Moore sold out a midnight showing at a local theater. Impressed, Dimension Pictures quickly signed on to book the film in inner city theaters where it becomes a smash with it’s target audience. It went on to become one of the biggest movies of that year, has attained a cult following since, and has been referenced in the works of the Beastie Boys, Snoop Dogg, Wu Tang Clan, and Dr. Dre, among others.
The sequence where the movie gets filmed, shown, and eventually distributed is some of the best historical representation of early 70s Blaxploitation films I’ve seen.
Catch it on Netflix or in theaters now.