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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Dolemite Is My Name is a biopic about comic/filmmaker Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy), who created the popular Blaxploitation character Dolemite in the 1970s. The story feels fresh, and the movie has playful humor and a can-do attitude -- but it's also full of mature content. Expect constant foul language -- including "f--k," "motherf----r," "s--t," the "N" word, "p---y," and many more -- as well as frequent, often vulgar innuendo and other sex-related talk. Several women appear topless, and one, briefly, is shown fully naked. A nude man is seen from the side (nothing sensitive shown), and a pretend sex scene is filmed. A man slaps a woman in a bar; she punches him back and knocks him down. There's a reference to rape. In several scenes, a secondary character drinks liquor while working. It's not necessarily referred to as a drinking problem and is played for humor. Cigarette smoking is shown. Like other real-life people screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski have written about before (Ed Wood, Big Eyes), Moore is portrayed as a creative dreamer who perseveres to get his creations out into the world. The movie has a lot to say about the whiteness of Hollywood in the 1970s and how difficult it was for Black artists to have a voice, no matter how talented or persistent they were.
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What's the story?
In DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) is working at a record shop while his attempts at being a singer fade away and his career as a comic flails. One day he notices a local homeless man who tells outrageous stories in rhyme, including one about a black hero named "Dolemite," and Moore decides to incorporate these into his act. The new direction is a big hit, and his comedy records start hitting the charts. At Christmas, Moore goes to see an all-white movie with friends and realizes that he needs to bring Dolemite to the big screen. He finds a writer (Keegan-Michael Key), a director (Wesley Snipes), and a student cameraman (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and starts making a movie by the seat of his pants, all craziness and gusto. The finished product changes things forever.
Is it any good?
This biographical comedy follows the beats of similar showbiz-related movies, but its rambunctious, playfully vulgar sense of humor and infectious can-do attitude make it a satisfying winner. Directed by Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) and written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood, Big Eyes), Dolemite Is My Name checks off the events of Rudy Ray Moore's life like a list. But it's Murphy's boundless energy and charisma that drive the movie. Normally in biopics like this, the lead character overshadows all of the supporting characters, but here Murphy is such a whirlwind that it makes perfect sense that he'd have an army of followers caught up in his creative wake.
Still, most of the cast gets in good, funny moments, especially Snipes as Dolemite director D'Urville Martin, the only one in Moore's crew who has any Hollywood experience (and is therefore perpetually dismayed at what he's seeing). The movie is especially wise in how it depicts the whiteness of the entertainment industry at the time -- from a viewing of Billy Wilder's The Front Page on the big screen to a Western playing on a TV set -- and how rare movies like Dolemite actually were. It's quite moving to hear Lady Reed (Da'Vine Joy Randolph) thank Moore for finally allowing her to see someone who looks like her up on the big screen. Like Ed Wood and The Disaster Artist, Dolemite Is My Name is a grand celebration of not only perseverance over skill but also the power of finally being seen and heard.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Dolemite Is My Name depicts nudity and sex. What's the difference between women being shown for exploitation purposes and women who are empowered?
How does the movie empower Lady Reed? Why does she initially have a complicated body image? How does the movie show the power of representation?
How is alcohol/drinking depicted? Why are we invited to laugh at D'Urville Martin's drinking when he may have a problem?
In the 1970s, why did Black artists have such a hard time getting their work seen -- or being part of mainstream movies and TV shows? Have things changed? If so, how? Can they change more?
- In theaters: October 4, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: October 25, 2019
- Cast: Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes, Keegan-Michael Key
- Director: Craig Brewer
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Comedy
- Character strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 118 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: pervasive language, crude sexual content, and graphic nudity
- Last updated: April 9, 2020
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