MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM (2020) – My rating: 7.5/10

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a drama directed by George C. Wolfe and written by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, based on the play of the same name by August Wilson. Ma Rainey was produced by Denzel Washington, Todd Black, and Dany Wolf. The film, while based on a true story as well as its source play, focuses on Ma Rainey, an influential blues/jazz singer who was the first popular stage entertainer to incorporate authentic blues into her song repertoire. She performed during the first three decades of the 20th century and enjoyed mass popularity during the blues craze of the 1920s. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom dramatizes a recording session that occurred in Chicago.

In 1927, Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), a highly regarded blues singer was recently been contracted by white producers. A recording session for songs slated for Ma’s next album is scheduled by her manager Irvin (Jeremy Shamos) to take place in Chicago. Seasoned Georgia Jazz Band members Toledo (Glynn Turman), Cutler (Colman Domingo), and Slow Drag (Michael Potts) arrive at the recording session, on time but without Ma Rainey, enraging her producer, Mel Sturdyvant (Jonny Coyne). The band is shortly joined by Levee Green (Chadwick Boseman), their pompous trumpeter who has shown Mel his original compositions in the hopes of breaking away from Ma and getting his own record deal. The rest of the band disapproves of his plan. Ma arrives an hour late with her girlfriend Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige) and her nephew Sylvester (Dusan Brown).  She immediately starts making demands that include forcing Mel to have the opening words of her album be spoken by Sylvester, who has a severe stuttering problem.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has aired at a time when jazz and the blues are suffering from a lack of popularity.  There have been so many Black Blues and jazz artists from the deep south we have no idea of.  The story takes us to a very dark stretch in some of the band member’s life but is brilliantly acted by all.  Every character had a significant part and story of their own.  I totally enjoyed Ma Rainey as it presented its audience with truths that no one outside of the African American community hardly knew.

FYI: Ma Rainey is dedicated to the memory of Chadwick Boseman who died of Colon Cancer during post-production in August 2020, making Black Bottom his final film appearance. The film appears somewhat short but reveals a significant recall of this segment in Ma Rainey’s recording life. Well done! On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 98% based on 250 reviews, with an average rating of 8.2/10. The website’s critics’ consensus reads: “Framed by a pair of powerhouse performances, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom pays affectionate tribute to a blues legend — and Black culture at large.” Ma Rainey airs on Netflix — Check It Out!


[MA RAINY’S BLACK BOTTOM  is Oscar-nominated at the 93rd Academy Awards for Best: Actor, Actress, Costume Design, Production Design, and Makeup and Hairstyling — Totaling 5 Nominations]


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