Ruth Carter, the Oscar-winning costume designer of “Black Panther,” took a deep dive into the life and times of Rudy Ray Moore for Netflix’s “Dolemite Is My Name,” starring Eddie Murphy as the ’70s blaxploitation comedian. It was not only fun but also insightful, creating 75 costume changes for Murphy, who switched back and forth between playing the performer and his outrageous alter ego, who became an underground sensation for his stand-up, his records, and his movies. Carter could be back in the Oscar race for designing a wide range of looks for this evocative period showbiz movie.
Carter classifies both Moore and Murphy as “transformationist” performers, creating their own characters along with distinctive looks. “The parallel, I think, is built in already to what Eddie’s been doing for some time,” she said. “He studied Rudy Ray Moore going all the way back to when he was on ‘Saturday Night Live.’ Rudy Ray Moore was not mainstream but we knew of him in the community and he was serving his community. And if you study the people that came before you, that’s how you figure yourself out.”
Moore was best known for his pimp persona as Dolemite, appropriating routines from LA street vets with his own take on the raunchy, rhyming, sexually explicit humor. And when it came to dressing Moore, Carter had a lot of leeway in creating a look that was distinct from the authenticity of Dolemite. “When we first meet Rudy Ray Moore, he’s a grown man with a kid’s job, managing a record store [Dolphins of Hollywood in South Central],” Carter said.
“He’s not wearing psychedelic shirts and jeans; it’s leisure suits, patterned shirts, vests, and short jackets with matching pants,” added Carter. “And for Dolemite, he’s going beyond ’70s normal. He’s the guy in the suit with the matching hat and the trims and the rose embroidered on the lapel (which was his signature), something that I saw in ‘Dolemite.'”
But to accurately portray the Dolemite outfits, Carter rounded up authentic fabrics and materials from an LA store. Among her favorites: what she called “the strawberry pie” look with a maroon suit and that signature rose on his lapel. “What I tried to do is to make it look like it was something that he invented, that he put together, and not a Hollywood movie,” she said. “And a lot of the suits — the powder blue, the black- and-white, the denim — are taken directly from Rudy Ray Moore’s movies. In that case, it was trying to be as authentically good to the real guy.”
Fittings with Murphy were entertaining, especially when it came to finding a comfortable fit with ’70s-style marshmallow platform shoes. “My crew looked at me with glazed-over eyes when I told them we had to make some marshmallows,” said Carter. “Then had no idea what I was talking about. But when I said it to Eddie, he said, ‘Yeah, I had a pair.’ We made his all-white and it was incredibly uncomfortable for him. Guys aren’t used to wearing high heels…they don’t always wear dress shoes — they were tennis shoes everyday. I finally ended up taking a pair of Adidas and making him a sneaker shoe.”
But if there was one standout suit for Carter, it was the black suit Moore wears at the premiere of “Dolemite” (with white trim and the Peter Pan collar). “It was taken directly from one of the ‘Dolemite’ posters,” said Carter, who’s currently dressing Murphy for “Coming 2 America.” “I knew that Eddie wanted to play this role for a very, very long time. And to help him check the box was a real proud moment for me.”