The legendary “Mother of Blues”, Ma Rainey, is played by Viola Davis in a searing new Netflix original movie. It also features Chadwick Boseman in his final, gut-wrenching performance before his tragic passing.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is adapted from the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson’s play. The movie celebrates the transformative power of the blues and the artists who refuse to let society’s prejudices dictate their worth. Directed by George C. Wolfe and adapted for the screen by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, the film is produced by Denzel Washington and Todd Black.
The movie introduces us to Ma Rainey in the opening sequence of the movie in a bar, highlighting her singing prowess and success in the American south as well as in the north. However, we get to witness the beginning of her challenges in the north, on a hot Chicago afternoon in the 1920s. During a recording session, emotions and tension run high as a band of musicians await the revolutionary performer. Late to the session, the fearless, fiery Ma engages in a battle of wills with her white manager and producer over control of her music.
Wolfe provided deeper insight into the movie during a media event in October, moderated by Noel George and including Davis.
“There are multiple dynamics which are at play both personal and professional, that results in a lot of things that are buried and embedded within each of these characters to come to the surface,” said Wolfe. “It became very interesting to me to try to not just tell, to paint a portrait of first seeing the south and seeing that, contrary to common law and incredible facts, despite a period of time of lynchings and violence in Jim Crow laws, Ma Rainey was able to build, in many respects, her own entertainment empire. Yet when she comes north, she has to negotiate a relationship with white power structures.”
Viola Davis joined the event to provide her views on Ma Rainey: “She’s at the end of her career and I don’t think people know the power of that. When there’s one thing that defines you, it’s like the old Cherokee birth blessing. It says May you live long enough to know why you were born. Ma Rainey, definitely her mark, her sense of herself in the world, is through her music. That’s what made her somebody. And all of a sudden she’s at the end of it.”
The cast of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom includes:
- Viola Davis as Ma Rainey
- Chadwick Boseman as Levee
- Colman Domingo as Cutler
- Glynn Turman as Toledo
- Michael Potts as Slow Drag
- Jeremy Shamos as Irvin
- Jonny Coyne as Sturdyvant
- Taylour Paige as Dussie Mae
- Dusan Brown as Sylvester
- Joshua Harto as Policeman
- Quinn VanAntwerp as Band Singer
- Chloe Davis as Ma Rainey’s Dancer
- Mayte Natalio as Ma Rainey’s Dancer
- Johanna Elmina Moise as Ma Rainey’s Dancer (as Johanna Moise)
- Onyxx Noel as Ma Rainey’s Dancer