In the initial scene of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, two Black men go through the forested areas in what feels like a naturally chilling episode given the verifiable setting. The men hysterically scramble their way through the woodland, breathing intensely, with mist moving through the trees and canines woofing somewhere far off. They rapidly arrive at a clearing lit up by consuming lights, summoning pictures of white hoods and searing peevish.
Yet, as they approach, it becomes evident that they have not been fleeing from but instead towards something. They giggle, joining a horde of individuals excitedly standing by to be allowed into Ma Rainey’s show. This scene consummately embodies the film’s uncomfortable tone; with building strains, it is never fully clear if or when they will rise over, and the disposition will change suddenly.
Adjusted from August Wilson’s honor winning play of a similar name, George C Wolfe’s film is the fictionalized record of a chronicle meeting with the genuine “Mother of the Blues” and her band in Chicago. Generally occurring throughout the span of one harshly hot day, it investigates the complexities of race, religion, craftsmanship, and the effect of the Great Migration (the mass development of Black Americans from the South toward the North) in 1920s America.
Stressed connections, and the consistent force battles inside them, are key to the film. Mama (Viola Davis) conflicts with her white supervisor Irvin (Jeremy Shamos) and studio head Sturdyvant (Jonny Coyne), who accepts each open the door to undermining her. She utilizes her productivity as an influence to constrain them to treat her with the regard she merits, mindful that they have little respect for her past her lucrative capacities.
She is likewise in strife with her horn player Levee (Chadwick Boseman), who shamelessly plays with her sweetheart Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige) and stays reluctant to concede to Ma’s masterful judgment. He is resolved to transform the business, with an abhorrence for customary Blues music and his own thoughts regarding how her tunes should sound.
The film isn’t especially substantial on plot, pivoting rather on character and discussion, to be specific that between the four men in the band: Levee, Cutler (Colman Domingo), Toledo (Glynn Turman), and Slow Drag (Michael Potts). Even though their conversations are frequently apparently minor (with themes including what makes a simpleton and the excellence of Levee’s new brogues), they uncover much about America’s territory at that point.
Toledo conveys a sincere philosophical lesson on the headway of Black individuals around the world. Levee describes a nerve-racking story of racial injury and presents ardent contentions against Christianity – an incredible last exhibition from Boseman who saturates each word with a sizzling force.
Notwithstanding being the nominal character, Ma Rainey doesn’t feel like the hero, which is baffling given that this film gives an uncommon investigation of Black American strange history. True to form, Davis gives an amazing exhibition. However, analysis of her wearing a fat suit to assume the job is legitimized; the decision not to give the part to someone with a more comparative constitution feels like a botched chance.
Even though Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is set more than 90 years back, it feels unsettlingly convenient in the way that all chronicled films which manage prejudice will until these issues are genuinely tended to. Conversations around the white-washing and allocation of Black artistry, racialized savagery, and endeavors towards balance, are being had in 2020 as they were in 1920; however much that we would now be able to perceive how far we have come, it is likewise critical to recognize how much further we have left to go.