Justin Peterson’s review published on Letterboxd:
She knew just how to handle those big wigs in the music recording industry, but up-and-coming talent would still have to learn the hard way.
"They don't care nothin' about me. All they want is my voice. Well, I done learned that. And they gonna treat me the way I wanna be treated, no matter how much it hurt them."
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which is clearly based on a stage play follows the drama that goes down during a tense studio recording session on a hot day in Chicago. I did not exactly know how to feel about Ma Rainey as a character at first, but her stubborn approach to studio recording certainly comes full circle by the end.
"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. A one. A two. A you-know-what-to-do."
(Quick Hits) ... Spoilers:
- With this being the unfortunate final performance from Chadwick Boseman I thought his awards success may be getting fueled by his death, but IMO that was not the case at all based on his powerful performance in this
- Then there is Viola Davis who completely transforms for this role, and gets really sweaty in the process. Her character Ma Rainey falls in line with the kind of celebrity that comes off extremely demanding, and hard to work with. She does this by refusing to work without having some soda on hand, dragging things out and wasting several records by letting a young man with a stutter introduce a track, and almost refusing to sign her contract
- But the truth of her approach, is that she had earned the right to stick it to recording studio owners at the time who would act just as shady including exploiting the talent of young black artists
- No shying away from the N-word in this film
- Even her signature song Black Bottom has significance, since that is clearly not a tune that can just be ripped off and given to a white band to play
- Boseman plays the hot head trumpet player Levee, and as a trumpet player myself I certainly was familiar with his cocky attitude. Because you know how many trumpet players it takes to change a lightbulb? About 10, 1 to do it and 9 to say how much better they could have done it 🤣
- Also as a former shoe salesman I got a kick out of seeing him use a shoehorn to put on his nice new yellow dress shoes
- While he acts like he is in charge, the rest of the band treats him like the younger brother of the group, since he essentially is. The guys pick on him when he is polite to the owner of the recording studio, since he wants to get a chance to record his own album
- He fights back against the group picking on him by saying he can talk however he wants, and recounts a heartbreaking story of racism his family endured when he was a kid
- Little does Levee realize that he is being groomed by the recording studio owner who just wants to steal his music, and then say he is not interested. Unfortunately, him getting used like this sets him off when one of his bandmates steps on his new shoes, and he ends up stabbing him to death. Which does feel like the kind of ending a stage play would have
- I should rewatch the part where one of the good recordings gets messed up, since it appeared that the studio owner was responsible and did it to increase tension between Levee and the rest of the band
- It appeared that very foxy groupie for the band swung both ways
- Overall I found the process of this band coming together to record an album very compelling, as they get dragged into the friction between Ma Rainey and the recording studio owner. And I think I may have related most with her manager who seems like the nice guy caught between these feuding parties, who is just trying to make things work out
Although I had heard about how the music industry had stolen from black artists over the years, it truly puts it into perspective when you see it happen to a character you have grown to know throughout the course of a story. Plus it makes me think about Copyright law and how it has been used and abused over the years.
Thanks for reading!
Happy movie watching ... Cheers!