Updated: Aug 21, 2021
Dolemite Is My Name captures the nuance of what it means to be an artist and the artistic condition that guides our path.
Admittedly, I’ve never seen the original Dolemite film or knew about Rudy Ray Moore’s story, so when Dolemite Is My Name was released on Netflix, I wasn’t very motivated to see it. I wouldn’t appreciate all the intricate connections to the original film or Rudy Ray Moore’s story. I had no idea how connected I would be, as an artist also dedicated to her mission. We all have been Rudy Ray Moore chasing our Dolemite dreams at some point. The film articulated that process powerfully, as well as tell the story of the making of a classic Blacksploitation film. However, this movie did everything but exploit Black talent, power, friendship, and determination. This movie met me in my artistic truth. Eddie Murphy—maybe because he knows the feeling—depicted the hunger that many creators have when they want to be great. Not every artist wants to be famous but every artist wants to get as close and intimate with their passion as possible. Dolemite Is My Name was that story. Yes, Moore was driven and determined to see his name everywhere and, in the end, he succeeded. But the movie reveals the bumpy road that’s guaranteed when you answer your calling. Rejection after rejection after rejection. Disappointment, discouragement, and doubt. You don’t know when it ends in success or which door will open, but we artist keep going anyway. This process is real for us. We may be good at what we do but we are not always sure of what we do. We may have the idea but not the funds or information to execute. Sometimes we give up like Moore did at one point and sometimes we make it through that phase to get up again. It’s a working artist’s constant dilemma and privilege. The montage of shows and movies Moore went to in hopes to fine tune his material reminded me of another artist reality: If you want to be great in your craft you need to interact with others in your craft. Moore was at show after show, learning, becoming inspired (maybe borrowing material?), which propelled him into next steps. This can be the hardest part. Be it school, work, family, or all of the above, it is not always easy to get to each open mic, jam session, or gallery. Soon, we may feel completely out of touch and we start to contemplate a comeback. Dolemite is a reminder to continue to seek that inspiration in your artistic community, and if you don’t have one, find them. I was shocked that I was expecting the movie to turn to tragedy at some point, not knowing the story. Every scene that Moore and his friends got a win, I was waiting for the loss, the monumental setback, the betrayal. I was apprehensive. When the movie was over and heart-breaking trauma did not ensue, it made me wonder how common it is for Black films to be riddled with trauma and pain. This was a refreshing take on Black life that was real without rose colored glasses or pain covered eye masks.
FRIENDSHIP. We got to see friendship among Black people! Friendship and support this sweet are hard to find on the big screen sometimes. When we’re not being over sexualized or brought back to the slave era yet again, rarely are we seeing untainted friendship. In the beginning of the movie, when Moore pitched the idea of Dolemite, his friends roasted him for being a has-been and he stormed out. It was not a second later that Jimmy, played by Mike Epps, was in the parking lot with him to apologize, support, and listen to Moore’s frustration with having nothing after having it all. I was shocked. Black men supporting each other and being vulnerable. Yes, this exists in real life. It’s nice to see it broadcast unapologetically like this. The friendship between Moore and Lady Reed was also heartwarming, genuine, and long-lasting. Lady Reed became a part of the larger group of friends that remained steadfast to the end. Friendship was huge theme and is an important reality in an artist’s life. I love being able to talk to musicians, singers, painters, and filmmakers about their craft (see Candid Convos) and get the opportunity to receive that love and support and have the privilege to give it back in return.
Lastly, Dolemite Is My Name is hilarious! Wesley Snipes was a riot, especially because the Wesley Snipes I know and imagine is not all smiles or silliness but swards and guns. Another artistic reality: We got to lighten up. One thing all my mentors have in common is telling me to slow down and not lose my mind over something that is supposed to bring me joy. Like other young people, we have time and deadlines for our artistic process, success, or growth. Rarely are these deadlines met and most of the time it’s a good thing that our lives unfolded the way they did or opportunities presented themselves at the right time, not our time. As I finish my Masters and close a chapter of my life to open another, I get to honor the many realities that come with artistic creation. Some realities are harder than others but Rudy Ray Moore’s story is a reminder to keep that passion alive and to follow it though, whether we know what it looks like or not. P.S. 100% of the time we don’t know what it looks like and that’s okay.