Eddie Murphy Owes His Big Netflix Comeback To A Legendary Blaxploitation Director

by Lia Beck
François Duhamel/Netflix

In the new Netflix film Dolemite Is My Name, Dolemite is Eddie Murphy's name... well, sometimes. The 58-year-old comedian takes on the role of Rudy Ray Moore, the actor, director, musician, comedian, and producer who is best known for his blaxploitation films centered around his alter ego. Dolemite Is My Name shows how Dolemite — the character and the first film — came to be, and it also serves as a biopic for Moore, telling his story of perseverance.

"This movie is about a guy that believed in himself and paid for his movies out of his pocket and got his records done — did them in his living room," Murphy explained of Moore to Entertainment Tonight. "His biggest gift was that he believed in himself. Because he wasn't a genius and his movies are super crude, but he believed in himself, and that's a really inspirational story."

Moore's entertainment career took him in many directions before Dolemite came along. In his early life, he worked as a dancer at a nightclub and as part of a traveling variety show. He then joined the army and performed during his time in Germany and Korea, becoming known as "the Harlem hillbilly", according to his 2008 Guardian obituary. (Moore was actually from Arkansas.)

Following his time in the military, Moore moved to Los Angeles and began releasing comedy albums. The story goes — and the movie shows — that while he was working at a record store in LA, he started hearing a man name Rico tell outrageous tales about a character called Dolemite in exchange for money. Moore then began working the character into his own comedy, eventually appearing as a kung fu fighting pimp character named Dolemite himself.

It is this time period that Dolemite Is My Name focuses on, showing the making of a movie within a movie. Using his own savings, Moore gets a Dolemite film made, even though he, and the other people he's working with, are amateurs. This is true to life. Moore's Guardian obituary explains that in 1974, he used his $100,000 in savings to produce the film. According to the Daily Beast, it made $12 million.

But it was because of how it was made that Dolemite became a cult film thanks in part to its "wooden fight scenes, the flubbed dialogue, [and] the visible microphone booms," as the Daily Beast puts it. The film went on to have two sequels: The Human Tornado in 1976and The Return of Dolemite (or The Dolemite Explosion) in 2002. (The first movie is streaming on Amazon Prime, Tubi, and Kanopy. The Human Tornado is on Tubi, and the third is on Amazon with an additional subscription.)

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Moore was an inspiration to Murphy, who explained to the Los Angeles Times that he remembers when he was first introduced to him. "The first thing I remember is my brother Charlie coming home from the movies and saying, 'You have to go see this thing I just saw,'" Murphy explained in reference to The Human Tornado. "And I went to see it and I saw why he was so excited. It was very funny ... And then I was a fan all the way up until now."

Via the musical aspect of his career, Moore was also a great influence on a generation of rappers. Snoop Dogg, who appears in Dolemite Is My Name, wrote in the liner notes for a 2006 release of the Dolemite soundtrack (via Biography) that "without Rudy Ray Moore there would be no Snoop Dogg, and that's for real."

Clearly, Moore was someone who wore many different hats, literally and figuratively, during his lifetime. (He was 81 when he died.) When it hits Netflix on Oct. 25, Dolemite Is My Name will share his story with an even larger audience. Naturally, the film might make some parts of his story a little more cinematic, but considering his own career, there's a good chance that's how he would have liked it.