Review: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Chicago, 1927. A band consisting of Cutler, (Coleman Domingo) Slow Drag, (Michael Potts) and Toledo (Glynn Turman) assemble in a drab practice room to record a record for the famous blues singer, Ma Rainey. (Viola Davis) New to their operation is the very spirited Levee (Chadwick Boseman) a talented horn player and aspiring song writer who Ma clashes with when the studio execs prefer his version of her music. 

Producer Denzel Washington is seeing to it that all of August Wilson's plays make it to the big screen, and his last offering, Fences was wonderful. Here Viola Davis gives us yet another amazing performance, though this one is much more restrained. I was a bit surprised that she was more of a supporting player here. This movie truly belongs to Levee.

It's impossible for me to watch Chadwick Boseman's final performance and not feel incredibly sad. He's so good, probably the best he's ever been and it just hurts that there won't be any more of him (aside from his voice work in the up coming What If) The praise for his performance isn't just hyperbole. He takes us through Levee at his highest and lowest. He's such a ball of energy and I was immediately drawn to him. All of the principle actors in this are great, but it really is Chadwick's show.

I wasn't familiar with August Wilson's play before watching this. I hadn't read nor seen any versions, so the ending caught me off guard. I strongly dislike how this ends. I won't spoil it, but I wonder if part of it is me projecting because of Chadwick's passing. I felt like I just left this film with the worst taste in my mouth possible story wise when I was enjoying it so much beforehand. I'd love to hear everyone else's thoughts on this.

Overall, it's easily accessible on Netflix and I hope everyone gets the chance to see it. Ending aside, it's very good. It's extremely stagey, so if that's not your thing keep that in mind, but I didn't think it hurt the film in any way.

Recommended: Yes

Grade: B+

Memorable Quote: "Let me handle them my way." - Levee (Chadwick Boseman)


  1. it is a good movie indeed! but i think viola davis is best in show

    1. She was amazing, I wish there was more of her in it.

  2. Viola Davis is an actress I admire and that is rare for me to say. She is excellent in anything she does. Chadwick Boseman is also such an excellent actor and it hurt even more that he died and it surprised us all. He was heroic in how he handled his illness with grace and dignity plus keeping it out of the headlines. What a true human spirit. This is one film I hope I can see.

    1. He really was, and it hurts so much that he's gone. Viola is one of my favorite working actresses at this point. She's wonderful.

  3. I have to admit, I was hesitant about watching this. The cynic inme wondered if Film Twitter was hyping up Chadwick's performance just because of his passing but oh man, he gives it his all here.
    I really disliked the ending too, it changed the tone so much. I would do anything to have sat in that room with the band and just watch them interact all day!

    1. I know in theory the ending works, I just...yeah. I didn't love it, and that band at the end made me want to throw my TV.

  4. OK, I'm going to download a torrent of this film and hopefully watch it before the end of the year.


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