Of the many stars of the Blaxploitation genre of the early ’70s, Rudy Ray Moore may not be the most famous, but he was certainly the most original. An absolutely filthy-mouthed comedian (he labelled himself a “ghetto expressionist”), Moore gained a well-deserved, underground following for his rhyming jokes that usually involved obscene takes on pimps, prostitutes, and hustlers. After recording several comedy albums, he used the money to self-produce his starring vehicle, 1975’s Dolemite—about a rhyming pimp trained in kung fu who takes revenge on the rival who put him in jail. The film went on to make $12 million, securing Moore as one of Blaxploitation’s greatest artists, and one who was later crowned the “godfather” of modern rap.
In the bittersweet comedy Dolemite Is My Name, Eddie Murphy plays Moore from his days as a struggling comedian/singer/dancer who worked as a record store manager, to making comedy albums and eventually willing his cinematic visions to life. The film deftly captures the hardship of inner-urban life in the ’70s, where classism and privilege kept Black entertainers who were unwilling to play the game out of the mainstream. Throughout Dolemite Is My Name, this struggle—and its accompanying frustration and sadness—is constantly reflected in Murphy’s eyes, making this one of the best, most mature performances of his career. Considering the subject matter, it also makes director Craig Brewer’s (Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan) film less laugh-out-loud funny than one might expect.
That’s not to say Dolomite Is My Name isn’t funny—it very much is. While you may not be rolling in the aisles at the antics of Murphy and this very strong cast (which includes Tituss Burgess, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Craig Robinson, Snoop Dogg, and Wesley Snipes), the smile will never leave your face. You’ll be happily marveling at the gorgeous costumes, golden-hued cinematography, banging soundtrack, and the inspiring story of a person who refused to let his struggles limit him. Dolomite Is My Name is a bittersweet, filthy-mouthed comedy that also sneakily educates its audience in the Black experience.