Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020)

George C. Wolfe directs Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis and Colman Domingo in this big screen adaptation of August Wilson’s play about the fractious recording of an early Blues record.

Chadwick Boseman finally lives up to his reputation and inhabits a role, truly brings it to life. That’s as cruel an irony as anything opened up in this play. Viola Davis’ complicated and entertaining Ma Rainey is an equally towering achievement but the real life figure remains an enigma. I’m not sure if it is a case of we do not see enough of her or that Davis and Wilson sensibly don’t want us to get a true fix on her power, morality and vulnerability. Visually, Davis transforms herself almost into a grotesque with seeping sweat and violent make-up. We certainly witness her ruthlessness and selfishness to keep her artistic control in the White Man’s World. But as much as she guards her art and perks, she doesn’t raise her fellow artists up. She doesn’t ever go down to the hellish cell of a rehearsal room nor have to accept the scraps of false opportunity the exploiters throw her way. The dead ends and the exploitation Boseman’s Levee experiences results in senseless violence. Violence neither the celebrity or the white paymaster witnesses or suffers. Expect this to sweep up the main acting categories this Oscar season.


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