Viola Davis is one amazing actor and having watched the entirety of 'How to get away with Murder' (a great show might I add), this woman has a lot of range. But also starring the late and great Chadwick Boseman who is also in this movie, meant that, not only am I forced to watch him play this character by watching it, I am forced to watch his craftsmanship as an actor and the last movie he would ever physically act in and character portray. Granted there are some Marvel 'What If' storylines in which he had lent his voice before passing but, to physically see him acting in all his splendour in his last film, I knew it was going to break me and I wanted to savour the moment.
But was the film any good you might ask? Yes, yes it was!
In 1927 Jim Crow era, Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) is a black successful and highly regarded Blues singer. She is well known in the black community and is at the height of her fame. In a world where racism is high towards black people, she understands her talent and her worth along with what she brings to the table with her singing talents. Ma Rainey and her Jazz band turn up for rehearsals at Paramount Recording studio in Chicago where Ma's manager Irvin (Jeremy Shamos) has set up a session to record Ma Rainey's song "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom". However on the day of recording, events unfold surrounding the band and one of their members Levee Green (Chadwick Boseman) who is an overconfident Trumpeter with a very dark past. On this very hot day, characters are tested, banter turns to anger and with the looming presence of racism and trust ever present, this day of recording does not go as smoothly as it should have.
I will say, I didn't cry like I thought I would have. I legit thought that seeing Chadwick performing would make me cry, but it was the 30 minute featurette which was obviously done after his passing that got me. Hearing Denzil and Viola talk about how talented this young man was broke me and I weeped a little. The exact reason why I didn't want to watch the movie. That aside, literally...Ma Rainey was a very small production with a small budget which was a very well thought out and acted "stage play" of sorts. It reminded me of 'American Son' where most of the movie takes place in one area. Movies that do this tend to be very intimate and when done well, it works, but when executed poorly, it completely crashes and burns. What I will say is that, this movie is carried by two completely talented actors, one of which GAINED WEIGHT for the role and NOBODY has spoken about her dedication to the craft and the other, who gave his life and soul to the performance, in which would end up being his last acting role ever, due to death.
Music, hair, wardrobe, accents, set design...everything looked amazing. At a point I thought it was the same lady who was wardrobe designer for Black Panther (possibly due to Chadwick's involvement), but everyone looked the part. At times I laughed because Ma Rainey depicted in this movie was a character. She knew her worth and took no shit from anyone. She was big (some may say butch), a mouth full of gold teeth and she wasn't scared of anybody. She had a presence. She had control or demanded control and structure her way. She stood up for herself and looked out for her band members. Levee was a character that not only carried the movie, but you could argue that this movie is more about him than any other character. Like all the characters, we know very little about them, but the film unpacks Levee's past and ultimately sheds a light on the behaviour of the times and how Black people were treated without beating you over the head with it. It was great to see Glynn Turman in whom I recognised from 'How to get away with Murder' and also Colman Domingo from 'Fear the Walking Dead' (not that I ever kept up with it after the first season, but I do need to go back to it).
I have heard about Chadwick's performance in the last few weeks since this Netflix movie came out and I hope he receives an award. Not because he has died, but because his performance was outstanding. Because he deserved an award when he was alive. If you have not seen Spike Lee's 'Da 5 Bloods', him and Delroy Lindo will have to fight it out for Best Actor, but if he doesn't win for supporting actor in 'Da 5 Bloods', he should definitely win it for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom because he is THAT good. Not to make this review about Chadwick Boseman and his accomplishments, but to overlook this man's talent in the 15 movies he filmed, 3 of which were biographical, 4 of which were as King T'Challa of Marvel's Cinematic Universe as the character Black Panther, in his solo movie and ensemble cast movies such as The Avengers, a role in which a lot of people know him for, this movie is just another showcase of this man's talent who was taken from us too soon and which of course, makes this movie a must watch.