In 1927 Chicago, during a blues band's recording session, tensions
rise between an ambitious trumpeter and the band's fiery leader.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020)
Directed by George C. Wolfe
Written by Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Starring Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Colman Domingo,
Glynn Turman, Michael Potts, Jeremy Shamos, Jonny Coyne, Taylour Paige, Dusan Brown
Based on the stage play by August Wilson
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom will forever be known among film fans as the final film of Chadwick Boseman, who tragically passed away this past August after a long battle with colon cancer. It's a hell of a farewell role, as his character, Levee Green, has a moment where he curses God for making his life a tragic mess. Due to his real life death, that scene has a whole new, darker meaning. What started life as a play by August Wilson has been reclaimed as Boseman's swan song, and one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2020. It's a fiery, dialogue-heavy, scathing critique of early 20th century record producers, and I loved every second of it.
It's Chicago, 1927. Blues artist Ma Rainey (Davis, in a stellar performance) and her band are recording some songs for the white record producer Mr. Sturdyvant (Coyne). Since Ma is late, as usual, the band bicker amongst themselves. Cutler (Domingo), the trombone player, Toledo (Turman), the pianist, Slow Drag (Potts), the bassist, and Levee (Boseman), the new trumpeter. Levee is ambitious and wants to play the music his own way, but the band is set in their ways and see him as a troublemaker. As the movie progresses, things get worse for Levee and everything spirals into a shocking finale. In the end of course, who else wins but the white record producer?
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom tells just one of hundreds of stories of how African American blues was seen as just another way to exploit an entire culture by white musicians and record producers in the 20th century. It features a host of incredible performances and gives us a chance to properly say goodbye to one of the greatest actors of his generation.