#REVIEW: “MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM”
By Mr. Will Wong
Based on the Play of the same name by August C. Wilson, MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM strikes while the iron’s hot. The Adaptation directed by George C. Wolfe is music to our ears arriving right as a fury of Awards buzz surrounds it. Everything wonderful you’ve heard about its performances is true.
Set in 1920s Chicago, the Film centers on singing legend Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) and her band one afternoon as she’s scheduled to record the Film’s namesake tune. Arriving late for the session, Ma Rainey finds herself facing-off with her manager, fighting to maintain control over her music, while also ensuring her band is paid and taken care of. Tensions mount while the band waits on, and much of that intense energy is ignited by triggered Trumpeter Levee (Chadwick Boseman), who is determined to make a name for himself, pleading for a chance to record his own songs with the management.
Davis is absolutely unrecognizable here – in part due to superb costume and makeup – but this also is a true testament to her chameleon-like skill as an Actress. She lives and breathes Ma Rainey‘s fearless bravado and she makes it feel that her character never has anything to lose. Her commanding presence entitles her to the fear and respect of those around her. Even in musical numbers, and yes she does actually sing in a bit of this, she is dynamic. While Davis is superb, the Film belongs to the late Boseman who is relentlessly hungry as Levee, so overbearing that only his energy can anywhere close to rivalling that of Ma Rainey‘s. He goes all in and we can’t help but feel some of the anger within he must have been battling in the face of illness fueled this performance.
We are blessed to be able to remember Boseman by this outstanding display and statement to the Black experience, including the frustration that Black Americans face on the daily in their collective struggle to be seen and heard.
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM arrives on Netflix Friday, December 18, 2020.