Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom ★★★½

Bolstered by strong performances, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom gives us a peek into the life of a pioneering blues singer at a recording session.

I felt the strongest aspect by far was the depiction of Ma Rainey herself. Viola Davis undergoes an incredible physical transformation into this massive, imposing and sweaty (seriously) on-screen presence who’s at odds with fellow musician Levee, who wants to move this style of music to another level. Boseman bows out with a memorable swan song as this character, and despite being a fictional creation, his story is one that resonates with many black musicians of his era. He has the passion and the right ideas, but no agency of his own and little hope of actually making it.

The main criticism I had was the film allowing too much space for its monologues. This is something that doesn’t always translate from stage to screen in a way that feels natural and this was something I felt was sometimes the case here. It’s a solid 3.5 for me as I still found it moving, but I think I would’ve engaged with it better had it been less stage like.

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