Movies Against Whitey! Dolemite
Updated: Feb 25
It was interesting…I wasn’t really sure how to review Dolemite until I looked into trying to order it on Blu-ray from Amazon. In scrolling the reviews there, I was surprised not only at the number of 1 and 2 star reviews, but also the number of these reviewers that said that they came to watch the film after seeing Netflix’s ‘Dolemite Is My Name’ starring Eddie Murphy as Rudy Ray Moore. And so the point of any review I’d write on Dolemite itself would have to address the core question: Does the work live up to the legend? And perhaps most importantly, does it have to?
But before we get past this introduction…it’s up to me to tell you this movie’s function!
DOLEMITE IS BACK! Arrested for a crime he didn’t commit, the warden sends him out to find evidence to acquit. But with some crooked FBI in the thrall of Willie Green, they’re committed to make Dolemite split the scene! Now don’t you fear because with his band of kung-fu hos, Dolemite’s gonna find out how far this conspiracy goes!
If one simply watches Dolemite on a surface level, what you end up getting is something worthy of being on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s poor filmmaking. It really is. The sound is bad, which is weird because you see the boom mics in A LOT of shots, very few people in the film can act, unfortunately this includes the main character, the pacing can lag, the editing could be tighter, etc. Plus, there’s just as much unintentional comedy as there is intended. The pitfall that these low ratings on Amazon fell into is that the Netflix retelling of this film and how it got made puts a glossy, modern touch on everything. It overlooks the flaws and polishes the gems…even if some of those gems aren’t there anymore. For example, there’s some disappointment that the final scene, where Dolemite rips out Willie Green’s guts with his bare hands isn’t in the original film. Of course it isn’t, and we’ll get into why that is. Why don’t we get to see the scene where Dolemite has sex with a woman so hard that the room around them starts to go to pieces? Yeah, it got cut…and with both of these missing scenes, it’s VERY obvious they got cut as the editing is just as bad as one would expect. Therefore, the Netflix story is the legend of Dolemite…it gives you the context while also providing a nostalgic amniotic sac from which to watch the original film through a warm rosy haze.
But that’s not Dolemite, nor is it The Total Experience, if you’ll forgive the pun. No, while the context provided by the film helps, you now have to apply it to the original work itself. Why do the sets look like crap? Because they were filming in a condemned hotel! Why were the scenes cut out so brutally? Because this was Jack Valenti’s MPAA and they were dicks about, well, everything…sex, violence, gore…you know, all the major food groups. And, most importantly, Moore wanted this film to get seen! He wanted it in theaters, not only in spite of The Man but also in spite of the film’s own director who made no qualms about vocalizing his distaste for the picture.
So why watch Dolemite? First off, it’s the first satire of the Blaxploitation genre while still being an example of the genre itself. Remember that first and foremost, Rudy Ray Moore was a comedian! He made his money mainly from selling albums at first. He’d never been in front of a camera (obviously). Still, he managed to do what every independent filmmaker wants to do, gather up a bunch of people and make a movie that they would like. And sure enough, in spite of plenty of inexperience all around, that’s exactly what they did. If the story from the Netflix film is true and Moore’s inspiration was to make a comedy that his people could laugh at, then clearly Dolemite was a success, bringing in over $10 million on a $100,000 budget, a one-hundred-fold return. Not too shabby, especially given what it is. Another reason to watch is simply the impact it had on African American culture, even now. Sure, it spawned its own sequels, but parodies and homages would persist, for example I’m Gonna Git You Sucka in 1988 and of course Black Dynamite in 2009 being a direct descendent. It’s been referred to both in pimping culture and, as such, in various rap performers and songs. Moore intended to create something that spoke to his community and now, almost 50 years after its release, it’s very easy to say that he more than accomplished that.
To wrap up, let me take off my film snob hat. Should you watch Dolemite? Well, if you’re into unintentional comedy and bad movies, if you’re keen to riff MST3K style while tipping back a few adult beverages, then yes. Absolutely. If you’re interested in the origins of blaxploitation films and the prime examples of the genre, then yes, you almost have to. If you’re looking for a good film with the polish of Shaft or even Super Fly? Oh no. No, no, no, no. You’re gonna want to watch the Netflix biopic instead. Personally, I fall into the first two camps and as such, I’m happy to have it in my library. But does it live up to the legend? Probably not. Does it need to? Hell no! In the words of the man himself, if you don’t like it, you can get to steppin’, you rat soup eatin’ motherfucker!
TLDR: The comedy, both intended and unintended, can be hit and miss, otherwise, there’s nothing about this film that even remotely qualifies as good. However, it has a fantastic charm and is one of the cornerstones of Blaxploitation cinema and is definitely worth a look for cinephiles and riffers. Recommended with reservations, earning it an average Plain Cat rating.