by Saira B
Welcome to our moon-synced movie review show, hosted by Saira Barbaric and NEVE. This duo of South Seattle creatives make multidisciplinary work together and individually. For this show, they’re ecstatic to join their love of astrology, ritual, and pop culture.
Stream this month’s podcast at the New Moon Movie Review official podcast website.
If we haven’t met, I’m Saira B. I’m a performance artist, filmmaker, and a huge nerd for movies, magic, and social history. I’m one-half of the podcast New Moon Movie Night with Neve, who you may know from this recent story in the South Seattle Emerald. In each episode, we discuss astrology and pop culture in sync with the new moon — traditionally a time of clearing, reflection, and intention setting.
I had a soft spot for 2019’s Dolemite Is My Name right away. Within the first two minutes, Snoop Dogg shows up — playing DJ Roj — to speak aloud the obstacle of the film. The rapper-as-record-store-DJ tells Rudy Ray Moore, played by Eddie Murphy, “Sometimes our dreams just don’t come true.” This statement sets up Moore to retort his drive and the film’s point, “They [dreams] still can!”
Dolemite Is My Name is my pick for this new moon’s movie. I choose it because I adore the cast, 1970s period films, and the blaxploitation genre overall. I hadn’t watched it before for a pair of reasons. First, I was wary of the all-white writing and directing team tackling the life of a performer whose character I find troublesome to my modern sensibilities. Second, I had already seen Black Dynamite, a 2009 blaxploitation satire so perfect you’d swear it was from 1972. Black Dynamite is the love child of cult action icon Michael Jai White and references the original 1975 Dolemite in several ways. I thought, who needs the comedian’s tribute when we have the martial artist’s tribute? I have been corrected. Dolemite Is My Name is a period biopic with rhythm, style, and a heartwarming ending. It highlights Rudy Ray Moore as a historical touchstone who connects comedy, Black American culture, and the birth of hip-hop culture.
“I ain’t no hobo. I am a repository of Afro-American folklore,” said Ron Cephas Jones as Ricco — a houseless man who comes into Moore’s record store. The first act of the movie showcases how the jokes of “liquor store wisemen” filtered through Rudy Ray Moore led to his signature brand of diss-heavy, bragging jokes over a beat. This brand made Dolemite the character a success on stage and screen and carried over in the tone of early-to-current MCs. The focus of the story is Moore’s first film as Dolemite, told through a series of montages that drive the character development and follow the filmmaking process. I lost count of the number of montages in this movie. This may be where my love for 1970s cuts and colors of clothes and hair comes to roost. For some, the pace may become tiresome.
The writers made a strong choice of when to start and when to end the film. Rudy Ray Moore was an entertainer from his teenage years until his death. Trying to encompass any more of Rudy Ray Moore’s life would have been way too much, but the movie still has the frantic biopic pace of aiming to hit as many points as possible in two hours. We cover the birth of his character, the success of a stage comedy career, the gathering of his crew, the making of a movie nearly scene by scene, and the endless barrage of closed doors as Moore finishes the first Dolemite film. We follow through screenings and meetings to a big premiere. The final scene brings tears to my eyes. I admit this is where that original soft spot gets knocked again. Rudy and a car full of his fellow filmmakers ready themselves to have a night alone at the film premiere. They read reviews and expect the worst, only to be met with crowds of admirers. Moore in the film chooses to forgo the premiere to stay with the fans who await their turn with his movie. He sees the fruits of his labor and the love of his people firsthand while his movie is a success financially.
To sum up Moore’s impact even faster than the film, Rudy Ray Moore lived until 2008 and was regarded by Snoop Dogg and many others as a father of hip-hop, not just in lyrics but in style and topic. Moore released over 25 albums and appeared in over 20 movies and music videos, including Dolemite sequels between 1976 and 2002. The love early rappers have for him is clear in his list of cameos in videos and appearances on tracks. I left my research hole after the movie excited and inspired because I saw myself and so many folks I adore in the relentless drive, genre hopping, and lane-breaking styles of Uncle Rudy. Yes, I am going to adopt Snoop Dogg’s name for the man. I may not like the pimp-as-hero trope, because it minimizes the harm and trafficking that pimps actually do. I can, however, acknowledge the impact of the character, which created a musical lane for folks to thrive and not turn to manipulating and abusing other humans for profit.
Craig Brewer’s Dolemite Is My Name lives in the genre I like to call Movies About the Magic of Movies. That’s a mark against it for me. I enjoy the magical realism of it, but this very specific genre includes films like La La Land that I find pretentious and navel-gazing, even as a movie fanatic. Dolemite Is My Name wins me back in showing off a time period I adore, the full do-it-yourself energy of making independent movies, and the reward bestowed on Moore for sticking to his style of Black, raunchy comedian. Would I want to see Moore do a set live if I went back in time? Probably not. Do I now watch this movie for a pick-me-up when I’m discouraged about my artwork? Absolutely.
I recommend Dolemite Is My Name if you enjoy:
- movies about the magic of movies
- adult coming-of-age tales
- seeing a wide array of Black 1970s fashion
I don’t recommend it if:
- you’re uncomfortable with extensive profanity
- your eyes glaze over from montages
- you don’t enjoy Eddie Murphy
I only recommend the original 1975 Dolemite if you have a strong stomach for badly made movies and pimp-as-action-hero plots. For more about Dolemite Is My Name and the new moon on April 30, check out this episode of New Moon Movie Night.
NEVE (they/(s)he) is a multigender, multiracial, multiply Disabled, multidimensional, multidisciplinary terpsichorean artist of the stage, street, field, stream, and screen. They are an Indigenous African living in Duwamish and Coast Salish lands and traveling wherever they have access and an invitation. (S)He is a 2020 Pina Bausch Fellow and a 2022 Arc Artist Fellow. Visit them online at nevebebad.com and beyond.
📸 Featured Image: New Moon Movie Night is a podcast by a pair of nerdy and disabled artists, Saira and Neve, featuring spoiler-heavy movie picks and discussions synced with the new moon. Image courtesy of New Moon Movie Night; edited by Emerald staff.
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