“Dolemite is My Name” and “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” are films about black men helping each other
By Frederick H. Lowe
Comedian Rudy Ray Moore, played by Eddie Murphy in the film “Dolemite is My Name,” is trying hard to persuade local disc jockey Jamaal Lewis, played by a grey-haired Snoop Dogg, to put his records into regular rotation at a ghetto radio station where Lewis works.
Lewis says no after listening to Moore’s five-minute sales pitch. He then tells Moore “we missed our shots” before turning away to listen to “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye.
Moore hears a lot of “no’s” while pursuing his various business opportunities, including making a movie, but he never gives up even when it gets tough.
Like a lot of black men, he asks himself “how did my life get so damn small?” He moved to California in the 1970s with dreams of becoming a big star like Sammy Davis Jr. Instead, he is working in a record store and as master of ceremonies for five minutes a night at the “Californian,” a black night club in Los Angeles.
“Dolemite is My Name” is Murphy’s tribute to Moore, a guerilla filmmaker and triple X-rated comedian whose comedy album covers featured lots of tits and asses. He was a leader in blaxploitation films. Moore’s message to black men is believe in yourself and never give up despite the obstacles.
I was turning the pages of last Sunday’s New York Times “Arts & Leisure” section, looking at the movie ads.
Tom Hanks, who stars as Mr. Rodgers in the film “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” was on the cover. Inside were ads for “The Irishman” starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino. There also was an ad for “Marriage Story,” starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson.
I kept turning the pages until I reached the section’s last page. I couldn’t find “Dolemite Is My Name.“ It was released by Netflix in early October, which may explain why there weren’t any ads for the film, although it’s slowly beginning to garner rave reviews. The movie was recently named as one of the year’s 50 best films.
In “Dolemite,” Moore surrounds himself with black men and black women who believe in him and what he is trying to achieve. He also believes in them.
Murphy is known and praised for his comedy, but in “Dolemite” he plays Moore, a very different character. During an appearance at the Toronto Film Festival, the interviewer said he was seeing a very different Murphy.
Moore’s intenton is to be prepared when opportunity comes his way, although he doesn’t immediately recognize it.
It comes in an unexpected way. Rico, a wineo, who rhymes words and phrases, later called Rap, comes into the record shop smelling of beer and wine to beg for money to buy a bowl of soup because doesn’t have any teeth.
Initially put off by the Rico’s appearance and smell, Dolemite realizes Rico has something to say and a unique way of saying it.
He learns Rico hangs out at the Dunbar Hotel, a gala entertainment spot in its heyday, but now place where junkies have turned it into a dump.
Moore tape records Rico and his friends. He then practices the rhymes at home in front of a mirror, turning them into jokes.
When he MCs the next time at the Californian. He rhymes and raps. He’s a hit and on his way. He sells his comedy albums and anything else, including ashtrays, out of his car trunk. The album covers feature plenty of naked women, and couldn’t be sold in stores. Album sales climb up the BillBoard Hot 100, getting the attention of the money men.
“Dolemite’s” excellent cast includes some very talented black-male actors. They are Keegan -Michael Key, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Titus Burgess, Chris Rock, Snoop Dogg, T.I., and Wesley Snipes.
Da’Vine Joy Randolph, who plays Lady Reed, a heavyset singer and actress, helps keep Moore on track. They are not a romantic couple. She encourages him and he listens. There are no romantic encounters in this movie.
The only romance in this film is Dolemite’s determination to make a film to show up is sharecropper stepfather who attempted to drill into his head that he was nothing and that he never would amount to anything. He ran away from home at 15 escaping brutal beatings and childhood that included eating rat soup.
As his career begins to gain traction, he plays clubs across the country, mostly in the South’s “chitterling circuit,” telling X-rated jokes, popular with his audience.
In one standup routine, he asks the audience why do birds fly upside down in Mississippi? “That’s because there is nothing worth shitting on,” he answered to loud laughter.
Moore borrows money to make the film he wants. When he runs out of money he borrows more. He lives in an abandoned Dunbar Hotel that doubles as the movie set to save money.
There is pay phone downstairs from his bedroom. He keeps a list of the all movie companies that have turned him down.
He makes the movie but he doesn’t have a theater to show it in. Daddy Fatts, a DJ, played by Chris Rock, helps him find one.
Dolemite’s theme is similar to “The Last Black Man in San Francisco.“ The film tells the story about two black men who dream of reclaiming a Victorian house believed to be once owned by one of men’s grandfather.
The film was made in San Francisco, a city undergoing rapid gentrification, pushing blacks out and the homeless into the streets. On one level the city is very normal. On another level it is not.
In one scene, Jimmie Falls, one of the film’s stars, is waiting at a bus stop.
A naked white man, wearing only a straw hat, walks up and places a newspaper on the bus stop’s bench and parks is butt on the paper and waits for the bus.
The common thread in both movies is that they are films in which black men care about and believe in each other. In the age of the ongoing “hate black men movement,” pushed by black and white feminists and corporate media these movies are a breath of fresh air.
Both films are ranked among the 50 best movies this year.
You can watch “Dolemite” on Netflix. “Last Black Man in San Francisco” is on YouTube.