Kall S’s review published on Letterboxd:
An adapted play that feels like an adapted play. Also in a good way, because the mise-en-scène gives the performances so much room to shine.
After this lead-up, it’s easy to draw the obvious comparison to Fences. But for me, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is clearly the superior film. It’s entertaining and thrilling, which is very very largely due to those performances.
Late Chadwick Boseman, who even looked much younger than he actually was, gives an amazing larger-than-life performance, which is sadly the last one we’ll ever see from him. He is so charismatic and believable in every word he says, every face he makes. He carries the emotional punch of this film on his shoulders. And his performance is totally worthy of winning the postume Best Actor award. Rest in peace, Chadwick.
Viola Davis, one of the best actresses of her generation, is unsurprisingly fantastic as Ma, the blues diva title character. She does this hugely charismatic role so seamlessly and effortlessly that it feels like she doesn’t even try. Also a performance worth all the hype and praise it will get.
I must say the film also succeeds in combining the character study elements with the social commentary elements, whereas many films struggle in this regard.