Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020) Review

Chicago in 1927, a recording session with Ma Rainey and tensions rise when her ambitious horn player Levee and white management team try to control the uncontrollable “Mother of the Blues” based on August Wilson’s play.


Films that are based on plays are always going to have some fantastic dialogue and scenes that build dramatic tension in the best possible way along with interesting characters. That is something that I have found to be the case over the years. I am very happy to confirm that Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is one of those. August Wilson also the writer of Fences and we all know how well that worked out for Viola Davis, picking up her first Oscar win after starring in the play on Broadway. This is also the final film appearance for Chadwick Boseman.

Ma Rainey was late to the recording session which certainly put the white manager and producer in a bad mood to begin with. She wanted to have more control over her own music and this saw the clash start. Then refusing to continue without her Coca Cola which was written into the contract. It was not going to be an easy session recording the new song and music. Even more so when ambitious trumpeter Levee who has an eye for Ma’s girlfriend and makes his moves on her. As he waits with the band in the rehearsal room he attempts to encourage them to leave and form their own band, being able to have more control over the music. But this will all end in very dramatic fashion as Levee cannot control himself.

The performances are utterly breathtaking and everything you need for this type of film to work. Chadwick Boseman is fantastic and it makes it even more emotional knowing that this is his final appearance on screen. Something that he could well be considered for an Oscar nomination as well. Yes, he really is that good! Viola Davis is easily one of my favourite actresses around and the opening scene in this film is utterly brilliant. While she does not sing the songs herself, the presence she offers is on another level. Not that we would ever expect anything less from her. Then the supporting roles from Colman Domingo, Glynn Turman and Michael Potts were very strong as well.

Denzel Washington is one of the producers of this film and it was back in 2015 when he announced that he would be bringing all of August Wilson’s “Century Cycle” to the big or small screen. With The Piano Lesson to become the third film, this is something that will certainly be well worth watching as Fences was fantastic as is Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

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