Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom premiered on 18th December 2020 on Netflix. Directed by George C. Wolfe and written by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, the film is based on the 1982 play of the same name by August Wilson. The 94-minutes-long film stars Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Colman Domingo, Glynn Turman, Michael Potts, Jeremy Shamos, and Jonny Coyne alongside other cast members.
“God ain’t never listened to no nigga’s prayers. God takes the nigga’s prayers and throws them in the garbage. God don’t pay nigga’s no mind. In fact, God hates niggas. Hate them with all the fury in his heart. Jesus don’t love you, nigga. Jesus hates your black ass”. – Leeve
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is one of those films which symbolically speaks for itself. In 94 minutes, the film gives you a lot to understand and think about. Set on a hot summer’s day in a recording studio in Chicago, 1927, around blues musicians coming together to record a song. On the very surface of it, the film is simply about blues music and their mindset and feeling but underneath, there are important and deeper themes of social injustice against people of colour.
The choice of music genre here is blues which originated back in the 1800s, soon after black people were slowly liberated from slavery but gained prominence in the USA by the 1960s and became one of the most important influences on the development of popular music in the state! Blues here is symbolic of oppression, strength, experience, and culture of African-American folks.
While the short history-lesson might sound off-putting, to understand and study the masterpiece Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is, it stands necessary. The idea of great migration also comes in place here, a glimpse of which we see in one of the scenes. The film is set in 1927, and a hundred years later, we are still fighting for basic human rights for people of colour and the result seems to be far off.
Through the characters here and their treatment and sometimes from their monologues we come to see that there is no escaping from the oppressors for them no matter where they move. There is always a force with the upper hand on them and it’s as devastating as it sounds.
Known as The Mother of the Blues, Ma Rainey, who is the leading lady here, breaks the stereotypical norms of being a woman or what it is to be “ladylike”. She talks about her desires, she commands respect, and moreover, she knows that society ain’t as cheery as they might act. For a black woman to rise with such power in those times is as great of a deal as it sounds. Ma was known for her vocal abilities, energetic disposition, majestic phrasing, and a “moaning” style of singing and Viola Davis here carries her presence and character with utmost perfection and beauty. Davis’ Ma is wise, strong, and cynical. She knows her worth and the game.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom features the finest of cast and screenplay you could imagine and everything about this piece of work fits perfectly. In his final and finest performance, Chadwick Boseman as Leeve is a character that’ll make you sympathize with him. Levee’s quicksilver moods are a result of a traumatic childhood where even God did not stand with him and he was brought pain in the form of white men “I can smile and say yes sir to whoever I please, I got my time coming to me. Y’all just leave Levee alone about the white man.” With dialogues as strong as this and acting that will easily sweep you off your feet, Leeve is a character that stays.
Nothing in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is half-baked or loose ended. Director George C. Wolfe assures that the music is not just heard but felt and embraced and brings the passionate sound of African and African culture. The film is short, crisp, and meaningful, and there are no wasted moments here. The film carries its crucial moments throughout but does not drag them to a point where they lose impact and that is commendable.
Stream It or Skip It
STREAM IT! Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is an impactful film with immense repeat value and promises to not disappoint you for even a minute. Chadwick Boseman’s last film is not just a valuable and hearty tribute but a meaningful and wholesome one too.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is now streaming on Netflix.
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