Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom ★★★

Fuelled by fiery inputs from Viola Davis & Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is about a group of blues musicians coming together to record a song on a hot summer day in 1920s Chicago. And through the tension & temperament that flare within the band, it is able to paint a riveting portrait of the African-American experience in early 20th century America.

Directed by George C. Wolfe, the film does shine light on social injustice & racial prejudice of the era, many of which still echo today, but it is in the clash & friction between the old & new voices where the story derives the charge to amplify its dramatic intensity. Wolfe offers each character the space to make their voices heard and makes sure that the atmosphere remains volatile throughout.

Evoking the film's period setting are its era-appropriate set pieces & authentic costumes but it is in the performances where its true strength lies. Davis plays Ma Rainey with aplomb and renders her fearless aura & brash confidence in a raw, fierce fashion. Boseman is in as the impatient & overconfident trumpeter and his impassioned act is as impressive as Davis if not more. And these two are brilliantly supported by the rest.

Overall, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom makes for a bustling drama that's steered by powerhouse acts from its leading pair and has got way more going underneath than what appears on the surface. While not a biopic in the truest sense, it still captures every facet of the blues legend through her turbulent recording session & Viola Davis' empathic showcase, and also features Chadwick Boseman in not only his final film role but arguably his finest as well.

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