Story

Based on August Wilson’s first hit broadway play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom dramatizes a turbulent recording session. Tensions Arose between Ma Rainey, and Levee Green, her horn player, trying to break away from the band and make a career as a star musician with his music and band. Ma Rainey also battles her manager and producer over control of her music in a 1927 Chicago recording studio.

Full thoughts and Review of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

The acting in this movie is excellent. I enjoyed everyone’s role, but Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis were incredible. Viola Davis (who also starred in Fences with Denzel Washington) played Ma Rainey. Viola Davis as Rainey commanded a superb presence as she portrayed her. Davis took to the role well and gave a sense of struggle on conflict Ma was going through. She is a diva of her time and knows that she isn’t viewed favorably because of her race. Voila gives Ma Rainey life and forcing authority and doesn’t try to let anyone boss her around, be it her white manager or bandmates, particularly Levee.

For whatever reason, I was drawn to Ma Rainey’s eye make up. It just make her look tired.

Chadwick Boseman plays Levee Green. Ma’s trumpeter in the band and is constantly at odds with Ma and his bandmates. Chadwick’s performance is probably the best part of the film. He plays the overconfident, arrogant trumpeter exceptionally well. Levee goes through a full range of emotions throughout the movie, and Chadwick captures all of these emotions. He even got me to sympathize with Levee at times, knowing how experiences shaped him into the character he became in the movie. Chadwick carried several intense moments in August Wilson’s themes in this movie and didn’t drop the emotional performance once and made this film impactful. The best part of this film easily.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom felt more like a play than a movie because it is originally a play by August Wilson, referred to as the “Theater’s Poet of Black America.” His works go into a systemic and historical exploration of African Americans, race relations, identity, and migration, to name a few topics his plays have covered. The movie’s producer is Denzel Washington, who also produced and starred in another stage play made into a film that I liked, Fences. While Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom doesn’t ever feel like a movie and more like a play, I didn’t mind it. I enjoyed the film movie more and drew many parallels to Fences watching this.

The main story of trying to record an album during a turbulent recording session was the movie’s primary conflict. What got my attention were side stories. The stories of the bandmates during the downtime of race relations and faith kept the film interesting. The actors’ segway and transition so fluently while in dialogue that I didn’t realize I was losing interest in the main plot. The actors did a great job telling these tales. Sometimes I almost did want to go back to the main story. For instance, Levee was revealing his backstory at one point in the movie. I got so caught up that I wanted to hear more. But it’s also told and detailed well and could be a movie in itself. That gives a great sense of who the character Levee is and can foreshadow an ending if you pay attention to the clues in the story and character traits.

This movie was Chadwick Bosman’s last film role before he passed away. It’s a good film to go out on, but also shame we lost a talented actor.

The sets also stood out to me. The film felt very sepia-tone styles of colors watching this. It didn’t feel too drab and authentic to a 1920s time period. There were three main sets, The recording studio, the basement of the recording studio, and the streets of Chicago. The streets of Chicago were always loud with music that was jazzy or blues styles of songs and was the most colorful of the sets. The city wasn’t vibrant like New York, but there was life in the town, mixed with a better or worse feeling. An ironic contrast to the recording studio. I found it strangely quiet except for the dialogue of the movie and the recording of the music. Most of the cast were in the band rehearsal area or basement of the recording studio. The dark and quasi-claustrophobic room was where most of the movie takes place. It gives off a very oppressive feeling, which works with the principal and side story and themes the movies and characters tell.

Summarized thoughts and review of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

I enjoyed watching this movie. It’s has a powerhouse performance in acting by Davis and Boseman. They propel the movie and provide the need conflict with their acting. Alongside a cast of great actors and add believability and dimensions to the film. The story is slow and will feel more like a play than a movie while watching this, but I liked this decision. The movie felt very similar to another film and play written by August Wilson Fences with I enjoyed watching. The side stories can take away from the main plot but tell so well; I found myself engrossed in them and wished to hear more of the tales—a solid and well-done movie.  

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1 Comment »

  1. Great review. The main problem I had with this movie is that aside from Ma Rainey, every other character was fictional. I think the story itself tells an important perspective of African American musicians and people during that time. But, I wish they would have either done something more historically accurate or made all the characters fictional to tell a narrative that’s “based on a true story.” I feel like I learned little about the actual life of Ma Rainey – but I appreciated the insight of the character’s stories.

    Liked by 1 person

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