Review: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

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Two absolute powerhouse performances from Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman make Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom sing from beginning to end.

When Ma Rainey (Davis) and her band head to Chicago to record an album in 1927, race, ambition, and tragedy take center stage as trumpet player Levee (Boseman) tests Ma’s boundaries and dreams of reaching far beyond his current status. The film is an adaptation of August Wilson’s play by the same name, with Ma being a real-life character and the 1927 setting placing classism as its own character. With the band members reaching across generations and much focus on the conversations that occur in the practice room, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom dives deep into the realities of being a Black man in America at the time. Boseman drives the energy of these scenes, though Colman Domingo’s Cutler matches his limitless animation with calm sensibility. Yet the commitment of Boseman to the role, looser and more untamed than perhaps any before, renders this his most dynamic performance. Add in Davis’ turn as a performer not shy to speak her mind, nor ignorant to the class dynamics at play, sprinkle in wildly entertaining and bombastic musical sequences, and you have one of the best films of the year.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom may be a film titled in reference to a song at the core of the story, but it ends up representing the match the lights the flame of what is to come as the film progresses. George C. Wolfe has crafted something that feels like a play, but uses that to its advantage and sets forth a monumentally enthralling tale that is not to be missed.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is now streaming on Netflix.

Rating: 5/5

Photo from Playbill

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