Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Movie Review & Film Summary: Oscar Worthy

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Video Source – Netflix (Netflix YouTube Channel)

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a 2020 American drama film directed by George C. Wolfe and written by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, based on the play of the same name by August Wilson.

Produced by Denzel Washington, Todd Black, and Dany Wolf, the film stars Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman, with Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, and Michael Potts in supporting roles.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Movie Cast

  • Viola Davis as Ma Rainey, the legendary blues singer
  • Chadwick Boseman as Levee Green, trumpeter in Ma’s band
  • Glynn Turman as Toledo, pianist in Ma’s band
  • Colman Domingo as Cutler, guitar and trombone player in Ma’s band
  • Michael Potts as Slow Drag, double bass player in Ma’s band
  • Jonny Coyne as Mel Sturdyvant, owner of the recording studio
  • Taylour Paige as Dussie Mae, Ma’s young girlfriend
  • Jeremy Shamos as Irvin, Ma’s manager
  • Dusan Brown as Sylvester, Ma’s nephew
  • Joshua Harto as Policeman

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Movie Plot

Tensions and temperatures rise over the course of an afternoon recording session in 1920s Chicago as a band of musicians await trailblazing performer, the legendary “Mother of the Blues,” Ma Rainey (Viola Davis). Late to the session, the fearless, fiery Ma engages in a battle of wills with her white manager and producer over control of her music.

As the band waits in the studio’s claustrophobic rehearsal room, ambitious trumpeter Levee (Chadwick Boseman) – who has an eye for Ma’s girlfriend and is determined to stake his own claim on the music industry – spurs his fellow musicians into an eruption of stories, truths, and lies that will forever change the course of their lives. Levee’s ambition to start his own band also has him soliciting the managers and producers, requiring him to relive previous traumas.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Movie Review

This movie is deep and sometimes funny and heartbreaking too. As this is based on a play by August Wilson the ending of this film felt like a play. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a 1982 play – one of the ten-play Pittsburgh Cycle by August Wilson – that chronicles the 20th-century African-American experience.

The play is set in Chicago in the 1920s, and deals with issues of race, art, religion and the historic exploitation of black recording artists by white producers.

In a Chicago recording studio, Ma Rainey’s band players Cutler, Toledo, Slow Drag, and Levee gather to record a new album of her songs. As they wait for her to arrive they tell stories, joke, philosophize, and argue.

Tension is apparent between the young hot-headed trumpeter Levee, who dreams of having his own band, and veterans Cutler and Toledo.

By the time Ma Rainey arrives with entourage in tow, recording has fallen badly behind schedule, enraging producers Sturdyvant and Irvin. Ma’s insistence that her stuttering nephew Sylvester speak the title song’s introduction wreaks further havoc.

As the band waits for various technical problems to be solved, Levee and Cutler come to blows. Levee is then simultaneously fired by Ma and rejected by producer Sturdyvant and in rage fatally stabs Toledo, destroying any possibility of a future for himself.

It’s a very thought provoking and powerful film! The Cinematography and costumes are amazing and perfectly done. The acting is stunning Davis and Boseman absolutely did amazing.

Chadwick Boseman in a still from Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: Chadwick Boseman’s Performance

It was really hard to watch this film with Boseman no longer being around. Was his best final performance! The love and pain we felt while watching this was out of the world. His character Levee is strong, stunning, charismatic, funny and pretty dark.

Levee’s character , he’s a hot head and he just wants to make his place in the world and show the white men that yes he must be respected! Boseman absolutely aces it again for the very last time too and we loved to see it we just loved everything about his performance in this film.

In 2019 Boseman was announced as part of the cast for the Netflix war drama film Da 5 Bloods, directed by Spike Lee.The film was released on June 12, 2020. Lee, in choosing Boseman for the divine-like character of “Stormin” Norman, said, “This character is heroic; he’s a superhero. Who do we cast? We cast Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall, and we cast T’Challa.”

Spike Lee told Variety that Chadwick Boseman never told him that he was battling colon cancer when they made “Da 5 Bloods.” “It was a very strenuous shoot,” Lee said. … Lee now sees the final scene of Boseman in the movie as the actor having “God’s heavenly light” shining on him. 

In 2016, Boseman began portraying the Marvel Comics character T’Challa / Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Captain America: Civil War was his first film in a five-picture deal with Marvel Entertainment.

In 2003, Boseman was cast in his first television role, an episode of Third Watch, and began playing Reggie Montgomery in the daytime soap opera All My Children. He was fired from All My Children after voicing concerns to producers about racist stereotypes in the script; the role was subsequently re-cast, with Boseman’s future Black Panther co-star Michael B. Jordan taking the part.

We miss him and everytime we watch him our heart fills with joy and feels the pain at the same time.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Movie Critical Reception

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 99% based on 207 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.”

According to Metacritic, which compiled 40 reviews and calculated a weighted average score of 88 out of 100, the film received “universal acclaim”.

Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Justin Chang said: “Boseman, evincing the same integrity he clung to his entire career, refuses to soft-pedal the destination. He imparts to this seething, shattered man the gift of a broken soul, driven by anger and trauma, and makes him all the more human for it. His final moments of screen time are among his darkest, and also his finest.”

Eric Kohn of IndieWire gave the film a “B” grade and praised Boseman and Davis’ performances, saying: “All of this would be more concerning if Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom didn’t turn on Wilson’s crackling dialogue and a jazzy pace on par with the music. Above all, the movie amounts to a solid resurrection that doesn’t muck up the bulk of what made the play click in the first place.”

Peter Travers, reviewing the film for ABC News, said: “Davis plays the real-life Ma Rainey, the Georgia singer dubbed the Mother of the Blues. Boseman invests body and soul into Levee, the hot-headed trumpeter who dares to lock horns with Ma in a shabby Chicago recording studio where they’re paid to make music the way the white bosses want it. The time is 1927, but the bristling racial tensions feel as timely as ever.”

The Movie Culture Synopsis

On August 28, 2020, Boseman died of colon cancer during post-production, making Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom his final film appearance. The film is dedicated to him.

According to film critic Owen Gleiberman in Variety, “Boseman was a virtuoso actor who had the rare ability to create a character from the outside in and the inside out [and he] knew how to fuse with a role, etching it in three dimensions That’s what made him an artist, and a movie star, too. Yet in Black Panther, he also became that rare thing, a culture hero”

He will be missed and will always be in our hearts.

The Film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is available to watch on Netflix.

Author

  • Semin Tungekar is a Mumbai based writer who has contributed a number of Articles to The Movie Culture. She also has a nack for Digital Arts which she constantly puts out on her domain.