Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom ★★★★★

Most of this will be copied and paste from what I sent a friend as I was watching the movie. 

It is very obvious that it feels like a stage, but so far I feel like the stage aspect to it is used to better effect. In fences, there isn’t a purpose for it being presented like a stage. Here, I noticed there is more of a purpose

The dialogue about how black people have to consistently put on a performances to stay powerful and enlightened gives underlining context to everything else going forward so far.

Especially making the room black. It’s obvious, but they never directly draw attention to it. Great way of showing how even doing the thing that makes them free can still make their blackness feel trapped. Not being able to travel to the public to be an inspiration.

With how each of the men talk, I notice how Ma Rainy’s characters presence based on how she talks, it influences the ideologies of each of the black men to go in different directions in how they want to express themselves. 

Even the moments when they play music, they try to one up each other. Some is more obvious than others, but it is a great way to portray a need for validation and attention through the usage of music. Trying to show some form of dominance and validation that their method of blackness is what is needed for them to survive. 

And I am glad the visual flare isn’t overly cinematic. Letting the dialogue retexualize how we perceive it visually. Really making these moments intimate and personal like we are experiencing this with these characters.

Me talking about why the editing seems odd at times: Cause when they interact with the white characters, it’s very tamed and homogenous. When the black characters ideologies clash, it is frantic. But the more they learn about each other, it becomes more calm.

Ok, now the rest of this will be a review with information I have not brought up yet. 

A movie that ends with something powerful. A result of the frustration and humiliation that is made inevitable by the limitations put on those who look down or do not understand the power of blackness. The movie is honestly a great showcase of black rage with context. Black rage in the movie is humanized through understand the characters and how different generations of blackness clashes with each other. There is a scene where Ma demands for a soda. It seems simple and odd, but the stage like aspects of the play helps dramatize a layer of importance to that scene. Ma where come off as over dramatic and demanding, where than getting in her knees and begging. The soda also functions as a device to show how she needs something that’ll stop her from turning into something that white people want her to become in and outside of the industry. She is strong and demanding, which makes people not wanna be around her. But it is worth it to her if it means keeping the integrity of her voice. A voice that refuses to be whitewashed by the industry. Well, that is not always ideal, especially in the musics industry. 

The movie also uses the limited location as a way to show power hierarchy. We have two white men at the top controlling the outcome. Ma, in the second level recording her music. A place where she feels powerful and free, but still has a level above her that creates limitations. The bottom level is the instrument players practicing. The play aspects transfer well here, because the very few locations provides a sense of where characters feel trapped or contempt with their current positions. 

Think of the bottom section like this. Me is easily addressed by her name in the second level. The instrument players are referred as “boys”. That world provides a framework for how the black men are children that can easily be ordered around. 

Over course Chadwick is fantastic here. Playing a character who was to strive past the ceiling that limits black artist. Not only do you have the white men here contextualizing him and the others as boys. He is constantly seen finding confront in expressing his true voice at a level/ setting where they want to keep that voice silenced. The movie wants us to understand his rage. We see how black people are put in positions where they are forced to have this rage due to their limitations. Limitations where they feel tempted to take it out on those who are on their level of being restricted. So much of this is shown through the camera framing situations as tight and urgent thanks to the shot compositions and the dialogue. 

I think this movie is extremely effective at being a cautionary tale about how the manipulation of black voices and the art they create creates division. Division that we see conveyed effectively by the space the characters are within. The camera is constantly moving and shifting attention to another character like a song rooted in the blues genre. It is a great showcase of all the main actors and a story that uses the fact it comes from a play to an advantage to explore so much. A great movie that I would recommend.

2020 ranking 

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