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Framed by a pair of powerhouse performances, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom pays affectionate tribute to a blues legend -- and Black culture at large. Read critic reviews

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Movie Info

Tensions and temperatures rise over the course of an afternoon recording session in 1920s Chicago as a band of musicians await trailblazing performer, the legendary “Mother of the Blues,” Ma Rainey (Academy Award® winner Viola Davis). 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. As the band waits in the studio’s claustrophobic rehearsal room, ambitious cornet player Levee (Chadwick Boseman) — who has an eye for Ma’s girlfriend and is determined to stake his own claim on the music industry — spurs his fellow musicians into an eruption of stories revealing truths that will forever change the course of their lives.

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Critic Reviews for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

All Critics (293) | Top Critics (74) | Fresh (286) | Rotten (7)

  • The sense that we're beholden to the whims of unseen forces-that we're not the protagonists of our own stories-cuts deep in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.

    March 21, 2021 | Full Review…
  • The story concerns itself chiefly with the role of music in documenting and, in some cases, defusing the unspeakable pains that birthed the blues.

    March 2, 2021 | Full Review…
  • Acting doesn't come much bolder and more blistering than in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.

    January 27, 2021 | Full Review…
  • Each of the actors rises to the occasion in this production, riding a wave of heat crafted by screenwriter and Wilson whisperer Ruben Santiago-Hudson.

    January 20, 2021 | Full Review…
  • The downside to the film's almost musical rhythm is that it never quite transcends its stagey feel... On the other hand, it's hard to argue against the power of seeing Boseman or Davis' faces fill the screen.

    January 12, 2021 | Full Review…
  • Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is pure art, just as beautiful as it is heartbreaking.

    January 5, 2021 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

  • Mar 08, 2021
    August Wilson's 1982 play, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom , was one of ten-plays in the writer's "Pittsburgh Cycle" (Rainey being the only one of the ten not set in Pittsburgh) that chronicled the twentieth century African-American experience. Like most if not all of Wilson's writing Ma Rainey was meant to "raise consciousness through theater". Wilson's writing of the Black experience was something I first encountered my senior year of high school via Fences. As a Caucasian who attended a school with a student body that was more or less split right down the middle when it came to racial ratios the African American experience was something that was present without being particularly regarded as drastically different. Maybe it was simply my naïveté, but in my fifteen to eighteen year-old mind it was as simple as the fact that slavery, racism, and Martin Luther King had happened, what they had to deal with was wrong and terrible, but the actions they took had been worth it and upended those injustices for future generations. We as a society had grown past the ignorance of such things and while that statement in and of itself may now ring of more ignorance than ever I genuinely believe if one were to ask any of the Black kids I attended high school with that many would agree they felt the same way. Obviously, this isn't a diatribe against the need to highlight the many injustices that have been inflicted upon African Americans throughout the twentieth century and into present day, but rather a slice of insight into just how powerful, eye-opening, and - most importantly - how necessary literature documenting the Black experience is. This is all to say that director George C. Wolfe's interpretation of Wilson's material focuses largely on the theme of the burden Black people feel to do something with their time in order to ensure prosperity for future generations. The idea many of these individuals aren't allowed to lead a life where such issues don't impact their day to day drives certain characters present in Ma Rainey to purpose while pushing others to the edge. Wilson's exploration of contradiction in this American life through faith versus vindication or expectation versus the truth of the matter transforms the heated racial tension of 1920's Chicago into a pertinent commentary on how a system designed on the promise of possibility grants equal opportunities for repression; all of which is conveyed through the mood of the blues. read the whole review at www.reviewsfromabed.com
    Philip P Super Reviewer

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