Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom ★★★★½

One, two, you know what to do.” 

What a great year it’s been for play to screen adaptations. 

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom uses its limited setting to its benefit, using the claustrophobic sensation and stifling heat of the space to play off the tensions magnifying around the characters, à la Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Davis and Boseman are absolutely electric, delivering some of the most emotionally charged performances of the year. 

The depiction of creative control and how it feeds into the racial tensions of the time is conveyed magnificently, leaving the story with a weight that is just the right amount of heavy to leave an affecting impression on its audience. 

Boseman’s monologue to God left me in tears. He stands out more than ever here. The conclusion of the film was such a jarring shock that I felt frozen for several moments after it happened. It provides a release of tension in the most upsetting but fitting way. 

The 30 minute behind-the-scenes documentary that Netflix made for the film is a great follow up and I highly recommend watching that as well for an even greater understanding of the era, August Wilson’s vision, and of blues as a whole.

2020 Ranked

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