Ma Rainey's Black Bottom ★★★★★

Birthday Movie Month, 2021.

Can we talk about that switch at the beginning that takes us from fear and dread (two Black kids running through the woods? Jesus, we know what's coming next) to absolute joy (phew, they were going to see Ma perform) and how it establishes that this movie is not going to focus solely on trauma but on the whole spectrum of the Black experience (with its ups and downs) in the 1920's?

Can we talk about those still-frames-that-are-not-really-still-frames, establishing shots, portraits and transitions that are basically stock photographs brought to life (and in full color!) as a way of bringing Black history into the foreground and reminding us of the people behind the headlines and the struggle?

Can we talk about Levee's yellow shoes being the greatest piece of costuming of the year?

Can we keep talking about Boseman's two earth-shattering monologues but also about Glynn Turman's indelible presence as Toledo?

Can we talk about Levee/Boseman finally breaking through the door only to realize it's a dead end that puts him not on street level but at the bottom of a hole from which he won't be able to come out and how powerful it is as a visual metaphor?

Can we finally admit we take Viola Davis for granted and that's one of the reasons why some folks are painting a nasty narrative of her eventual Oscar win (let's see what happens in two weeks) being undeserved because we're so used to her knocking it out of the park we've forgotten just how good she actually is? We see her as Ma Rainey, we don't even question it, we already knew she was going to blow us away and, well, she delivered. So, what else do you want?

Can we talk about how even with some added scenes (moments that were not in the play) the movie doesn't overstay its welcome and in fact I kinda wish it was longer?

Can we talk about that final scene with the all-white band playing Levee's song and how lowkey devastating it is?

“They don't care nothing about me. All they want is my voice.”

Can we talk about George C. Wolfe being the unsung hero of the film and how we should acknowledge he's responsible for taking a very straight-forward play and turning it into the audiovisual wonder it ended up being by sprinkling cinematic flourishes here and there (like the ones I've been describing this whole time) and giving the whole thing a fascinating visual identity?

Truly, we should talk about how genuinely great this film is.

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