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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Review

Set in 1920’s America, Ma Rainey, also known as the Mother of the Blues is on her way north of The States to a recording session. Famous for her stardom with African Americans, her raw talent and strong attitude, Ma’s patience is put to the test as tensions rise between the band and the management company. The story is based upon the playwright by August Wilson, who you may know from his other work such as ‘Fences’ that was adapted to the screen a couple of years ago.

Viola Davis stars as the mother of the Blues, and it’s easy to tell that she isn’t completely recognisable. Her character Ma Rainey was known for applying grease like make up and was, lets say, larger than life. Sporting gold teeth and always looking fabulous, Davis transforms into Ma Rainey and gives one of her best performances as the blues singer. Alongside Davis, you have the band. Cutler (Colman Domingo), Toledo (Glynn Turman), Slow Drag (Michael Potts) and the late, great, Chadwick Boseman as Levee. Whilst the film’s title suggests that the film is front and centre of Ma Rainey, a good proportion of the film revolves around the band. Setting up in the recording session, arguing over social issues, life and music. The film translates brilliantly as a play into a film. Just like with ‘Fences’, the look and feel of a play is easily transferred onto the big screen (small screen if you’re watching at home on Netflix like us). The film utilises the small amount of locations and sets, which allows the film to keep to its roots of the playwright. Unfortunately, this is Chadwick Boseman’s last film, due to his sudden and unexpected death in August, we get one final look at his talent. 2020 has been an unfortunate year for most, especially for Boseman. But what 2020 has done is show that he is more than his Black Panther legacy. Boseman provided us with two outstanding performances, one in Spike Lee’s ‘Da 5 Bloods’ and in his last film ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’. We would be surprised if he wasn’t recognised in the upcoming Awards Season for these roles.

‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ is about more than music. It’s about how even the most powerful singer of those times, still struggled to control her music with the white person. How African Americans who moved from the south to the north in search of a better life, still found extreme hardship upon their move. Whilst all of that plays a part, what the film does best is showcase its outstanding screenplay by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, inspired by August Wilson’s play. Above all else, it’s a conversation piece. Normal people talking about everyday struggles and trying to find common ground. Due to its brilliant screenplay, the performances are enhanced and provide some of the best acting you’ll see this year. Even though I had never heard of Ma Rainey or her story before, we still found it fascinating to watch, purely for the acting alone. I recommend if you watch this, to also watch the making of on Netflix which is only 30 minutes, as this takes a deeper dive into the film which was also interesting. ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ is available on Netflix right now.

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