Although built as an ensemble, Viola Davis plays the title character – the “mother of the blues” of the 1920s – and Bosman stands as his ambitious trumpet player, translating how the racial inequality of the era into thin hidden rage. At that score, the lessons of the film echo in the present, clearly intended in ways and feel very relevant in light of recent events.
George C. from an adaptation by Ruben Santiago-Hudson. Ma and his crew have made a pilgrimage from Georgia, but tensions within the group, as well as between Ma and his manager (Jeremy Chamos), the bubble below the surface, boils from time to time.
Bosman’s Levy has big dreams, including bringing her own creative cycle to Maw’s songs that won’t fly with her. “You play Maw’s music while you’re here,” he said with the characters played by Cutler (“Fear of the Walking Dead” by Coleman Domingo), a band member and Clin Durman and Michael Pots.
Levy, moreover, braves Maw’s anger in more ways than one, and keeps an eye on his girlfriend (“Hit the Florin” by Taylor Biege). He longs to have his own team, forcing the white manager and producer to walk away deliberately, he describes in detail beyond a painful past.
As for the dough, he, like a regular showbiz diva, arrives late, demands his three Coca-Colas before singing a note, and repeatedly threatens to cancel the entire session and retreat south.
After a while, the foundations of that combat posture become clear, reflecting her recognition that those who want to use her talent “care nothing about me, all they want is my voice”.
Wolfe does what he can to open the presentation, but the long monologues and rat-a-dot mockery can’t shed stage roots. Fortunately, Davis and Boseman present powerful performances that harass those around them – especially in the case of Levi, because there are barriers to where and how he can direct his anger.
While “Black Panther” is an enormous part of Boseman’s legacy, his smallest, fast – spoken character here – using music as a means of enchantment – proves his extraordinary range and at least destroys ideas beyond being on screen. Not a small achievement.
Davis, for her part, sinks her teeth into another bigger role than life, a complex factor that makes her relatively short screen time make it difficult for the meaty character to classify from an award perspective. The film, incidentally, was reunited because he had previously starred opposite Washington in Wilson’s “Fences” adaptation.
Over 90 minutes, “Ma Rainey” – like any interested actor – is no more than its reception, or risks prolonging the risk beyond its weight. Thanks to its lead, on the contrary, it finally stops a few scenes before calling for a worthy curtain.
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is set for a November 25 theatrical release and will be screened on Netflix on December 18.