By Chris Cannataro
Dolemite is my Name not only reminds us why we love Eddie Murphy (the lead actor of this film), but it should give us some hope for the future of Netflix as a distributor of quality work.
2019 has not been a very good year for Netflix, but this reality seems to have sparked a new sense of urgency in the streaming giant. Netflix reaped the benefits of having one of the biggest market shares in online streaming for years, until those who supplied the content got wise to the game. Earlier this year, Netflix realized how weak their assortment of original content was when their seeming bottom line, The Office and Friends, were announced to leave Netflix to serve Peacock (NBCUniversal’s new streaming platform) and HBO Max (WarnerMedia’s streaming platform) respectively. And while they have made some recovery by signing on a 5 year deal with Seinfeld, the alarm was really set off when Disney announced their service Disney+, which (all previous info considered) entails a mass exodus of content from Netflix.
So, things have been shaky for the streaming giant. And for anybody who has been in a shaky situation before, they know that shaky situations are a better time than any to call in a couple favors. And while the relationship between Netflix and TIFF has been a bit troubled, TIFF seemed like no better place to premiere Craig Brewers film featuring an ensemble cast full of industry vets, most notably Eddie Murphy and Wesley Snipes.
© Youtube | Netflix
Dolemite Is My Name follows the story of Blaxploitation-era film legend Rudy Ray Moore, from his beginning as a washed up and struggling music artist, to becoming a local comedic icon in central LA, to his struggles to navigate the film and recording industry as a Black man in the 1970s, to eventually achieving big screen success. Eddie Murphy portrays this role spectacularly, and uses the incredible personalities of his cast-mates like Keegan-Michel Key, Da’vine Joy Randolph, and Tituss Burgess to bounce his comedic talent off of while still being able to deliver on scenes with more serious, dramatic tones and performances. Key, Randolph and Burgess themselves do incredible jobs at establishing convincing supporting roles which add significant depth to the movie.
Aside from the acting, the writing, cinematography and sound design are all on point. The films score and soundtrack choices are all reminiscent of the timeless scores of the Blaxploitation era such as Trouble Man, Superfly and Shaft. But the feeling of the 1970’s that lives a the soul of this movie was really rounded out by the incredible costume design by Oscar award-winner Ruth E. Carter and set designer Clay A. Griffith.
While it may not have the heaviest of themes, Dolemite takes an interesting look at the cultural divide between races in the 1970s, and how they not only manifested in what content certain masses took in, but how these divides were inherent in the film and recording industry, pushing racialized populations to produce their own, independent content without the support of big-studio budgets. The film definitely makes you appreciate the cultural progressions that have been made, but also sternly highlights the cultural segregation that is very much alive and well today. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean that critiquing current and past race relations is all this film was about. Of all the things to take away from this movie, understand that Dolemite is a story of redemption. It is a story of not letting your past haunt your present, or define your future. I think that is an important sentiment whether you want to apply it to your personal life, or your lens of a society we chose to define as ‘post-racial’.
*Editor’s Note: Dolemite is My Name screened at TIFF ‘19 and will make its North American release on October 25, 2019.