Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom ★★★½

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom gives the late Chadwick Boseman one of his finest performances. As Levee, he is a charming, nervy bundle of energy and his descent into hopelessness by the film's end has great emotional weight.

But for me, this film emphasizes the worst aspects of the play to film adaptation. It is stagey and dialog-driven to a fault, giving little room for characters to feel like more than mouth-pieces for August Wilson's ideas. And while it has excellent period production design, and some rhythmically-edited musical sequences, there is very little effort visually to make this feel more like a film than simply a filmed stage production.

But the film's ending does a great job of driving home Wilson's points and showing how Black lives have been crushed and forgotten beneath a music industry built on stealing their ideas.

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