Saturday, October 24, 2020

Netflix: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Trailer - Viola Davis & Chadwick Boseman

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 trumpeter 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.

Adapted from two-time Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson’s play, MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM celebrates the transformative power of the blues and the artists who refuse to let society’s prejudices dictate their worth. Directed by George C. Wolfe and adapted for the screen by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, the film is produced by Fences Oscar® nominees Denzel Washington and Todd Black. Colman Domingo, Glynn Turman, Michael Potts, Taylour Paige and Dusan Brown co-star alongside Grammy® winner Branford Marsalis’ score.

On Netflix: December 18, 2020
In Select Theaters: November
Directed by: George C. Wolfe
Screenplay by: Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Based on the Play by: August Wilson
Produced By: Denzel Washington, p.g.a., Todd Black, p.g.a., Dany Wolf
Executive Producer: Constanza Romero
Director of Photography: Tobias Schliessler, ASC
Production Designer: Mark Ricker
Costume Designer: Ann Roth
Editor: Andrew Mondshein, ACE
Composer: Branford Marsalis

Cast: Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo,
Michael Potts, Jonny Coyne, Taylour Paige, Jeremy Shamos, Dusan Brown, Joshua Harto

Photo Content from Netflix

In the blues song “ Michigan Water ,” jazz great Jelly Roll Morton seductively croons: 

Michigan Water taste like sherry wine, mean sherry wine Mississippi Water taste like turpentine... 

For the over one hundred thousand black people who migrated to Chicago from the Deep South during the first twenty years of the last century, the waters of Lake Michigan must have felt intoxicating, indeed. But as Jelly Roll warned, those waters turned brutally mean the summer of 1919, when a seventeen-year-old black boy while swimming, inadvertently crossed an invisible line of racial demarcation, and was attacked and drowned. 

When no arrests were made for the young boy’s death, Black people took to the street in protest. During the ensuing confrontations, a white mob stormed Bronzeville, Chicago’s Black neighborhood. Five days later, 37 were dead, 536 injured, and over a thousand left homeless. 

The film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, adapted from the 1982 play of the same name, is set during the summer of 1927. As the same racial embers which erupted eight years earlier continue to simmer, enter a different kind of explosion — but no less stinging or socially significant. Enter singer/songwriter/ showbiz entrepreneur, the legendary Ma Rainey, a black woman from Columbus, Georgia, who is used to obeying nobody’s rules but her own. 

Ma Rainey, aka “The Mother of the Blues,” has come north for a one-day recording session. Included in her entourage is her nephew Sylvester, her newest girlfriend Dussie Mae, and band members Toledo, Slow Drag, Cutler and Levee. 

Photo Content from Netflix

Ma Rainey, as crafted by playwright August Wilson, breaks a number of rules, including those of August Wilson himself. She is the only character in August’s magnificent ten play cycle, chronicling the African American existence during the twentieth century, who is based on a real person. She is also the only LGBTQ character — Ma was an out lesbian, who, in her song “Prove It on Me,” unabashedly proclaims: 

Went out last night with a crowd of my friends 
Must have been women cause I don’t like men. 

Equally unique about Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which premiered on Broadway in 1984, is that it’s the only play in the cycle which is not set in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, the famed Black neighborhood where August Wilson spent his formative years. 

But the one quality the piece shares with the rest of August Wilson’s work is its stunning language; language which is as exalted as it is visceral and raw. 

As the characters in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom sermonize, philosophize, talk shit, confront and condemn, their cascading words become a symphonic composition which celebrates the pain, joy and wonder of being black, human and alive. 

As much as Ma Rainey the historical figure was a trailblazer, by 1927, the world was starting to leave her behind. Bessie Smith, Ma’s protege and alleged former lover, had eclipsed her in record sales and popularity; and each week The Duke Ellington Orchestra could be heard on the radio, live from The Cotton Club — the modernity of Ellington’s harmonics, the polar opposite of Ma Rainey and her jug band blues. 

In the film, Levee, Ma’s coronet player, who has his own musical sound and vision of the future, sees his time in Chicago as a chance to break free of the strictures which have kept black performers/artists from having the creative careers they deserve. Will Levee have a future full of promise and possibility, or will the demons of his past and ours as a country keep him and us from moving forward, unencumbered and free?

The blues as an art form has always struck me as having the power to transform the paradoxical, (faith versus despair, anguish versus desire) into a balm for the hopeful heart. Or to quote Ma Rainey: 

“The blues helps you get out of bed in the morning. You get up knowing you ain’t alone. There’s something else in the world. Something’s been added by that song.” 

Photo Content from Netflix
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