Reviewer: Love Kassim
The opening shot seems so familiar; two black boys in period costumes on the run in the forest and it clicks: they must be running away from slavery but then we see that they are running towards something - the music of Ma Rainey (Viola Davis).
She sings the blues, an entirely African American-created art form that brings black people together, though as Ma Rainey later puts it, the music suffering even if it doesn't provide an escape from it.
Black artistry portrayed in this movie comes alive thanks to the powerhouse performance from Levee especially (played by the late Chadwick Boseman in his final role).
Both characters have large personalities but only one of them is actually aware of the White exploitation that is coming for black art. Boseman and Davis are electrifying even if there are times when the film strains against the confines of its stage origins. There is a struggle since the movie was written to be played on stage (August Wilson's play, MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM). The cinematography (George C Wolfe's adaptation) was okay, resulting in the other stuff melting away, like the source material was aimed at the stage rather than the screen
The movie is set in Chicago,1927.Ma knows that she has all the power in these recording sessions but the second her voice is on vinyl, it will be exploited. Tensions rise with the white manager struggling to facilitate a recording session with the dismissive producer. Here we see a portrait of how Black art is valued by its artists and the tragic economic realities that seek to steal art for white audiences.
Fun fact: Denzel Washington serves as a producer in this film.
What's so brilliant about this film defies easy description. Ma is strong but she is clearly exhausted, other times she is bitter but has affection for her family. Boseman consistently elicits our sympathy with every gesture and line. Levee is an astonishing role because you have a character who thinks he knows the score but we are all waiting for the fallout from the harsh lessons he is about to endure. This is acting at its finest and while the supporting cast deserves acclaim for their work, these two performances are what kept me glued to the screen
I felt like this film demands for us to explore how Black art is created then exploited and how we really haven't broken free.
This is a movie about the power of black art and why it must be cherished.