About a week ago, Netflix suggested a title that had my interest piqued upon visual contact. That title was ‘Dolemite Is My Name’. A little background might be helpful in understanding my excitement. The first time I heard the word Dolemite was in the early 90s when Snoop Dogg rapped it in the verse:
Fallin’ back on that ass,
with a hellified gangsta lean
Gettin’ funky on the mic like a ol’ batch of collard greens
It’s the capital S, oh yes I’m fresh, N double-O P
D O double-G Y, D O double-G, ya see
Showin’ much flex when it’s time to wreck a mic
Pimpin’ hoes and clockin’ a grip like my name was Dolomite
My African ears – unfamiliar with this cultural reference – thought they were hearing DolaMIKE (a brand of microphone only available in Compton, perhaps?), similar to that time in the early 2000’s when they heard Adam Levine singing about how he had to ‘move that dragon’. Levine was, in fact, not talking about a dragon at all. He was boasting about how his moves were like JAGGER’S…not transporting a medieval reptilian…
Nostalgia and curiosity guiding my finger tips – because again, this Dolemite entity was something I was completely ignorant about – I clicked on the link and discovered that the movie starred Eddie Murphy. I hesitated; because lets face it: The last time Eddie was laugh-out-loud funny he was costarring as an animated donkey. Obviously I overcame my skepticism as I can now report that Dolemite was a who – not a what – and affirm that the critics are right: Eddie Murphy delivered a masterful performance, pouring tremendous affection into playing the role of a much loved icon of the Blaxploitation era.
The film is a lovingly treated biopic of Rudy Ray Moore, at the time an aspiring comedian, musician and singer. It tracks his unlikely rise from struggle to stardom to something greater: a portal into The Black Experience ™. Moore’s eventual success comes after he embodies the persona of Dolemite, a crass, flamboyant pimp who speaks in fluid metrical time and exists on the fringes of reality. Watching Murphy as Moore is like watching your drunk uncle play dress up in Colleen Atwood’s closet and actualizing himself into fame and success; a cinematic How To guide on being the best version of yourself.
Now that I’ve sold you on the merits of this film, let’s discuss some of the morals it has to teach we intrepid viewers. By my count, there are seven main takeaways on how to be a better *insert your occupation* but there may be more. Feel free to add your observations in the comment section.
- You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes you just need to add spinners to it: Dolemite was not Rudy Ray Moore’s invention. He was a larger than life character that existed in the minds of Black men who hung out on street corners or languished in America’s prison industrial complex. He was a figment and creation of collective imagination, living only as an anecdote and therefore – too borrow a phrase from President Buhari – he belonged to everyone and belonged to no one. What Moore did was cobble those stories together, polish their delivery and give a face – his face – to a character that people were already in love with.
- Give the people what they want: ‘Build it and they will come’ is a philosophy that has guided many successful entrepreneurs. From brothels to the hanging gardens of Babylon, if it exists in your imagination, chances are it does in someone else’s as well. Someone is looking for exactly what it is you have to offer. You don’t have to do/be the best…you just have to give folks something incrementally better than what they are accustomed to.
- Know your audience: They say a prophet has no honor in his hometown. Fortunately for him, Rudy Ray Moore wasn’t peddling those kinds of prophecies. Moore was very much an integral part of the community in which he lived. His early success was as a result of selling his records out of his trunk before he linked up with the Bihari Brothers of Kent records. After he determines to make a movie, he tells his funders that everyone he knows wants to see a Dolemite movie. They express their skepticism.
“When you say ‘everyone’, isn’t that just the people you know of five square blocks?”
“Yeah,” Moore replies, “but those same five blocks are in every city across America.”
4. Be willing to face rejection: If you’ve ever worked in sales or tried to pitch an idea, you’ll certainly have heard that it takes seven no’s to get to a yes. I used to do door-to-door sales when I was in college. It sucked, but it taught me valuable lessons about resilience, approach and human nature. If you can slug through the long, wearisome bog of rejection, you will eventually reach a clearing. Your target market is out there…a whole herd of them. When you get that first yes, it cracks open the veil of favor. And if you keep at it long enough, more people are willing to say yes than no. After going through that bog, you learn how to approach people in a manner that makes it hard to refuse you.
5. Bet on yourself: If you’re not willing to take a chance on yourself, who else will? You’ve got to be the best champion Yourself has ever known, even if it comes off as arrogance. Betting on yourself also means investing in your craft/skill. When you believe in your dream, when you’re wholly committed to its success, it will be easy for others to as well. No one achieves success alone, even if you start out that way.
6. Fulfill your oaths: In Dolemite, we saw Rudy borrow money from a lot of people. $200 from his auntie. $30K from the Bihari brothers. He even borrowed electricity from the city to shoot his movie. What we also saw was him paying all these people back. Be a person of your word. If you swear to repay a debt, do it. A good name carries far more weight than temporary riches.
7. Let doubt be an accelerant: Near the film’s climax, D’Urville Martin – whom Wesley Snipes portrays as a cartoonish man of dubious sobriety- encourages Rudy to take everything that anyone has ever said about him – every doubt, discouraging word, every put down – and use it to inspire Dolemite’s final stand off with Willie Greene in the movie’s concluding scene. Huffing and puffing with every frantic karate chop, Rudy vanquishes Willie in the most preposterous way: by ripping out his guts. So too, must you dear reader, metaphorically rip out the bowels of anyone who has ever doubted you. Let their cynicism serve as rocket fuel for your ambition.
Dolemite is My Name was made in memory of Charlie Murphy, a fitting tribute to Eddie’s equally talented brother who passed away in 2017. The two had costarred together in other films together, and as wonderful as this film is on its own, we can only help but imagine what the result might have been had Charlie lived to add his peculiar flair. I suppose Lesson 8 would be to honor those who have sojourned on the journey to success with you, to speak their names aloud, to remind the world of the magnitude of the loss of these irretrievable precious gifts.