Ruben Santiago-Hudson (screenplay by), August Wilson (based on the play by)
If there were any hope to bring Chadwick Boseman back, either through necromancy or sheer willpower, I believe the world could put aside their differences to make it happen. His short career has garnered some of the most powerful performances of his time, and sadly with the last film we will ever see him in, he delivers one of his best. Ma Rainy’s Black Bottom is impactful, expertly written, and deals with themes of race, pride, and terrific performances from both Boseman and Viola Davis.
Set in 1927 in a Chicago recording studio, this story is mainly set up like a stage play made for film. That would make sense with it coming from playwright Ruben Santiago- Hudson, known for his work with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in the play turned movie ‘Fences’. I remember watching ‘Fences’ and thinking how great the writing was, and how powerful each monologue felt when you heard them. That’s no different when a bombastic, charming, and hungry trumpet player Levee (Chadwick Boseman) bursts into a recording rehearsal showcasing his new yellow shoes he bought moments earlier. Levee is the youngest of legendary blues singer Ma Rainey’s (Viola Davis) band, consisting of a pianist Toledo (Glynn Turman) bassist Slow Drag (Michael Potts), and trombonist Cutler (Colman Domingo). Levee wants to be the next big thing and isn’t shy about letting it be known to his band mates who all know Levee’s got the talent, but they are here for Ma Rainey.
Ma Rainy is a force to be reckoned with in regards to getting what she wants, and Levee may have bitten off more than he can chew when it comes to his influence on her music. There is a power dynamic between the old (Ma Rainy) and the new (Levee) that gets explored in how the recording studio treats them, and how they perceive themselves. No doubt that during this time, white recording labels and managers alike were essentially robbing black talent of their just royalties and recognition purely on the color of their skin, and ‘Ma Rainy’s Black Bottom’ explores those themes from the perspective of black talent. Chadwick Boseman gives some of his best in this film and is a towering figure in the film. His monologues are incredibly moving and engaging, and his character is lovable yet tragic at the same time. No doubt he will be nominated and possibly will win the Oscar for best actor this year.
Viola Davis is also incredible in her role. I loved her singing, as well as her performance as a singer who has seemingly been through tough times in the industry that insists on hiding her based on her skin color and treating her differently. The supporting cast is all great in the film and I loved how engaged I was during the dialogue-driven moments of suspense. There is some humor to be had here too, a lot of the circumstances are comedic though you never stop feeling the overall message of the film.
Overall, ‘Ma Rainy’s Black Bottom’ is a beautiful story, with a tragic and incredible performance from an actor that was taken from the world too soon. It is absolutely worth checking out and I hope everyone watching can take the time to reflect on what an inspiring actor Chadwick Boseman was, and celebrate him for that.