Rating: R (for some sexuality, full nudity and brief language)
Directed By: Craig Brewer
Written By: Larry Karaszewski
In Theaters: Oct 4, 2019 Limited
On Disc/Streaming: Oct 25, 2019
Runtime: 118 minutes
Dolemite Is My Name is funny, heartwarming, and inspiring, which are always the qualities of an Eddie Murphy film. The injustice often done to Murphy and most black male artists is that they are often presented or perceived as flat, one-dimensional beings who can only be overly masculine, overly sexual, and overly humorous. Yet, at the core of all of Murphy’s work, regardless of whether or not it sells, is heart, which comes from his mastery of storytelling that he learned from Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, and George Carlin.
Audiences love Harlem Nights and Coming to America not because they are filled with jokes but because they are well-drawn stories impregnated with wisdom capable of showing the humanity of people who are often not seen or presented as inhuman through a Eurocentric lens. As such, Dolemite Is My Name opens as a well-drawn story should, by placing the audience immediately into the conflict that illuminates the depth of Rudy Ray Moore’s character and drive.
Surrounded by a monster cast that includes, Wesley Snipes, Chris Rock, Mike Epps, Keegan-Michael Key, Craig Robinson, Titus Burgess, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Luenell, Snoop Dogg, T.I., and so many others, the film articulates the importance of “believing in yourself” as Murphy states on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Murphy continues, “his superpower was his belief in himself,” which shines brightly on the screen.
For those of us who consider ourselves guerilla artists who have never had the backing of a major company, Dolemite Is My Name is an affirmation that doing it yourself and not waiting on someone to affirm or, even, appreciate you is a success. Moreover, as someone who loves art that shows rather than tells, there is another theme that is powerful but may be so subtle that it is missed.
In Moore’s interplay with his friend, fellow artist, and business partner Theodore Toney (Titus Burgess), the message of tolerance is executed rather than being shouted while exemplifying that tolerance does not mean approval nor does a lack of approval mean to be oppressive and demeaning. As such, Dolemite Is My Name finds various ways to highlight the nuances of being human and the effective/constructive/loving ways in which all can navigate their and other people’s nuanced existence in a way that allows everyone to reach their full potential, even if we don’t all agree with each other’s lifestyle. To that end, Dolemite Is My Name may not be the funniest Murphy movie, but it makes a case for being one of his best.
The film investigates what white America simultaneously loathes and fetishizes about black culture, while ensuring that black bodies remain subjects rather than objects so that their humanity can teach, heal, and inspire others. Yet, ultimately, Dolemite Is My Name is not interested in telling a story about overcoming racism or the white normative gaze; it is interested in showing the power of self-belief, which is a power, if realized, that can transition African people from begging white folks to be nice to them to creating their own institutions to nurture their own sovereignty.