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Blast from the Past: Dolemite 

What’s it rated? R |  When? 1975.

I’m gonna let ‘em know that Dolemite is back on the scene! I’m gonna let ‘em know that Dolemite is my name, and fuckin’ up motherfuckers is my game!”

There are a lot of great Blaxploitation films out there. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), Superfly (1972), Shaft (1971), Foxy Brown (1974), and Across 110th Street (1972) immediately come to mind. 

And then there’s Dolemite (1975) starring standup comic Rudy Ray Moore as a pimp newly freed from prison after being framed by his nemesis Willie Green (D’Urville Martin, who also directs), who railroaded Dolemite so he could take over his action. Unlike the aforementioned great Blaxploitation films, Dolemite is decidedly awful—badly acted and directed, with a $100,000 budget that must have been spent on champagne-filled limos to drive the “actors” to the sets, because you sure can’t see it onscreen. So why bother highlighting it? Because Dolemite is so poorly made, it’s mesmerizing. More importantly, it’s an amazing cultural artifact

click to enlarge EAT LEAD!:  A pimp named Dolemite (stand-up comic Rudy Ray Moore, left) seeks revenge after being framed and sent to prison in this classic 1975 Blaxploitation film. - PHOTO COURTESY OF VINEGAR SYNDROME
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF VINEGAR SYNDROME
  • EAT LEAD!: A pimp named Dolemite (stand-up comic Rudy Ray Moore, left) seeks revenge after being framed and sent to prison in this classic 1975 Blaxploitation film.

Blaxploitation films were made for a black urban audience, a way to give voice and power to a marginalized segment of the population that was yearning for strong black characters. Of course, most of these films were made in the ’70s, so while black men were given power roles, the films were still fairly misogynist. 

“Now, I know you think you’re smart, see, ‘cause you got all them flashy clothes, you got that big car there, you got all them black bitches working for you,” says a detective confronting Dolemite.

“You forgot about the white ones,” Dolemite retorts.

The black protagonists in these films are players and pimps, and the closest the women get to power is a character like Dolemite’s Queen Bee (Lady Reed), who runs his stable of kung fu fighting hookers. Yes, kung fu fighting hookers is a thing in Dolemite.

Moore, who co-wrote the film, got the idea for the character after he heard a rhymed toast by a local homeless man about an urban hero named Dolemite. He developed the character and featured him on his debut 1970 comedy album Eat Out More Often, which climbed to No. 25 on the Billboard charts. Several more comedy albums featuring Dolemite followed, and soon the film featuring Moore’s friends and fellow comedians was conceived and filmed.

Vinegar Syndrome recently restored the film and released it on Blu-ray with a bunch of extras, and as a cultural artifact, it’s worth seeing. It is, after all, the beginning of a franchise. Its first sequel, The Human Tornado (1976), is by far the best of the bunch. There’s also The Return of Dolemite (2002; packaged in DVD as The Dolemite Explosion), and then there’s the loosely connected Shaolin Dolemite (1999). 

Each is a fascinating look at the community fed up with Hollywood and taking control of its own cinematic arts. (90 min.) 

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