Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom ★★★½

I finally got around to seeing Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, a film I've been eagerly waiting for since I heard about it. I barely knew anything going in and I thought it was going to be some musical, but the overall technical prowess of George C. Wolfe's period bio piece had me surprised in the best way possible.

Dedicated to Chadwick Boseman

in celebration of his artistry and heart

I still doesn't feel real that Chadwick is gone. But what he left us with at the end of an utterly brilliant career was probably the best acting showcase of the year. It's a shame I haven't seen Get on Up and 42 yet but from the little that I've seen, it looks to me as if the late great man saved the best for last, and to imagine what he was going through at the time...
This was Chadwick Boseman's movie and I don't want to hear anything else. His performance is the best of the year that I've seen thus far and it is worthy of many prestigious awards. But no award can contain the pure heart and soul of his acting here. The dominance of his physicality, the hurt in his heart, the hope in his voice, and the shine in his eyes almost made me shed some tears. Yes, it is that powerful. The amount of emotion that this film can extract from the viewer doesn't rely on cheap sad music cues or corny self-pitying lines, but on the artistry and the heart that the late great Chadwick Boseman puts forth in his acting. Bravo and rest in power, King.

Speaking of acting, the commanding presence of Viola Davis as the "Mother of the Blues" Ma Rainey also is a highlight of the film. She transforms and brings the character to so much life that it's impossible to look away whenever she's in the scene. It's yet another terrific tour de force performance from Viola and it's sure to be the talk of awards season.
Everyone involved also pulls in great performances and the acting is the strongest point of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.

I also loved how this film looks, how it was shot and lit. It has an unnatural visual feel for a period film. It's almost theatrical in nature. The sunlight and the heat can be felt through the screen as tensions rise in this motion picture adaptation of August Wilson's play.
Taking place in a single location, we follow a band of black musicians in the late 1920s rehearsing music and conversing about the littleness of the colored man in the straight white states of America. We see how these young hopeful colored men try to fight their way to be respected by the domineering white community, as reflected by Chadwick's Levee. And we also see established black figures like Ma Rainey fully knowing she's getting leeched off by white music executives. Through all this depression and injustice, only through music do their souls dance. And still, selfish people take advantage of this.

The ending is shocking in its brutal honesty. I love the symbolism of the door that's so hard to open and the dream-crushing wall on the other side of it. What's sad is that with so little left with them, the colored community expresses their anger and frustration against the own members of their group while the whites couldn't care less. These issues continue to persevere in America and it's lovely how this film portrays this with such strong and concise dialogue and perfect pacing.

The few issues I have with Ma Rainey's was the bit of confusion that comes with the point of view the movie was using to try and tell its story. With his more amount of screen time, it feels like a Levee movie. But it's also a Ma Rainey movie if you think about it. Okay, it's a movie about them both intended to reflect a much greater social theme. I just really wished I knew a lot more about Ma's character and I hoped that the side characters had so much more personality and depth on their own.

Despite being minorly flawed, I greatly enjoyed this little story. Films about the oppression of the black community then and now always compel me and I was into Ma Rainey's from the very start. With a virtuoso performance from Viola Davis and a very special last bow from Chadwick Boseman, this film is worth checking out. I loved this personally and I hope you do too. I'll end it here and I hope everyone's having a great day! Stay safe and hip fellas!

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