Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020)

1h 34m / R / Musical Drama


Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a celebration of three real-life Black artists and legends. There’s the blues singer, often referred to as the “Mother of the Blues,” whose name and song give the film its title. There’s the author August Wilson who, inspired by Rainey and the era she found fame in, crafted his 1982 play around her larger-than-life persona. And there’s Chadwick Boseman, taken from us way too soon, who chose this difficult material to play while living with cancer. We’ll never know if Boseman knew this would be his swan song, but the fact that it is haunts the viewer and is inextricable from any experience of the film. The fact that it may be the best performance of his tragically short career doesn’t make it any easier.

George C. Wolfe’s dynamic film adaptation of August Wilson’s play cares about much more than just Ma’s big, brassy, bluesy voice. A fictional account of a day in the life of Rainey, who was known for her bawdy lyricism and bold personality, this is a reclamation of Black music and culture as told through an array of distinct characters, crackling dialogue and sharp filmmaking.

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