Thomas’s review published on Letterboxd:
“Ma Rainey´s Black Bottom” is the kind of film you mainly watch for the acting. Viola Davis once again delivers a powerhouse performance and supporting actors Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, and Michael Potts leave positive impressions, as well, but above everything else, the movie will be remembered for featuring the final performance of Chadwick Boseman. And although it was of course far too early for a final performance, it is a worthy one, as Boseman steals the show as the charismatic and determined trumpeter Levee Green. On the one hand, it hurts to see how thin he is here, knowing of his sickness, but on the other hand, it´s awe-inspiring how he could deliver such a vibrant, passionate, and electrifying performance despite his health problems. His screen presence is incredible and his standout monologue screams acting awards.
“Ma Rainey´s Black Bottom” is based on a stage play and that´s easy to see. It takes place in one location, a recording studio in 1920s Chicago, and it´s very dialogue-heavy, with most of the conversations revolving around blues, racism, faith/religion, and the experiences of black Americans at that time. The chemistry of the cast is great, and I enjoyed their banter, though I have to say that apart from the mentioned Boseman monologue and the shocking ending, not much stayed in my mind. Other films have explored similar themes more impactfully, in my opinion. It´s also the kind of adaptation, where the change of the medium doesn´t really add anything to the experience. I feel like they could have just filmed the actual play “Hamilton”-style and the film wouldn´t lose anything. That being said, costumes and production design are top-notch.
For fans of Chadwick Boseman, the film is clearly a must-see and they won´t be disappointed. I would also recommend it to anyone interested in the subject matter, the recreation of the time period, or dialogue-and performance-driven movies in general. Nevertheless, I can understand why the movie wasn´t nominated in the Best Picture category, because for that, it lacks the punch, in my opinion.