Director: George C Wolfe
Writer: Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Screenplay) August Wilson (Play)
Starring: Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Colman Domingo, Glynn Turman, Michael Potts, Jeremy Shamos, Jonny Coyne
Plot: Chicago, 1927. A recording session. Tensions rise between Ma Rainey, her ambitious horn player and the white management determined to control the uncontrollable “Mother of the Blues”. Based on Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson’s play.
Tagline – Everything Comes Out in the Blues.
Runtime: 1 Hour 34 Minutes
There may be spoilers in the rest of the review
Story: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom starts as blues singer Ma Rainey (Davis) and her band, Levee (Boseman), Cutler (Domingo), Toledo (Turman) and Slow Drag (Potts) are looking to record her most famous song, Black Bottom.
We see how Levee is looking to break away and have his own band, showing how difficult he can be to work with, while Ma expects things done a certain way, or the producers will not get her music, we get to follow the afternoon, as they look to overcome the problems to record the legendary musicians’ songs.
Thoughts on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Characters & Performances – Ma Rainey is the blues singer that was breaking boundaries in the 1920s, her music was loved by many, with her songs looking to be put onto records, she proves to be determined to make sure that her music is performed the way she wants it, they are her songs, she wants certain people in and out of her band, she knows who she can trust and is using her position of power to make her music, not the music want to hear. Viola Davis is wonderful in this leading role that makes her steal every scene she is in through the film. Levee is the youngest member of the band, he wants to play his own music, with his own style and believes he can have his own band, he proves to be difficult to work with, even if his back story of his childhood, will give him the most emotionally powerful scene in the movie. Chadwick Boseman is brilliant in this role, showing all the confidence in the world that his character has when he thinks things are going his way. We do see the rest of the band, Cutler, Toledo and Slow Drag who enjoy the music and know their roles in the band.
Story – The story here follows the recording of Ma Rainey’s songs including the Black Bottom song, where we see how the band needs to learn to work together and the producer must learn how to deal with her demands. This story does have plenty going on, with Ma Rainey’s demands, which shows who has the power, Levee wanting the power and being centre of attention, while never being in the position of power. You can tell this is based on a play by how each scene is set up for the characters to unfold and the witty, engaging dialogue will pull you in to see if the songs will be performed.
Themes – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom brings us the recording of blues music, showing the positive nature of the tune that will hold everything together, with the music being catchy enough to make us want to dance.