Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
In 1927 Chicago a band headlined by the singer Ma Rainey takes a break from their tour to have a recording session and make an album. Tensions rise as setbacks make the recording session delayed and conflict emerges between Levee, an ambitious trumpet player, the rest of the band, and Ma as they spend the day trying to make the album.
Meet Levee, the trumpet player behind Ma Rainey’s voice. Levee is a strong and willful individual. He’s ambitious and strives for near impossible goals. Although he plays in the band that supports Ma, he already has plans of starting his own band to play his music. And his aspirations aren’t without their support. Levee is a natural with music and understands what the people want in terms of music. However, even with all his skill, he is arrogant and foolish, which is shown through his interactions with the others in the band. Ma Rainey is a coloured artist who makes a living singing. She’s older and mature and understands the difficulties of being a coloured artist during her time. She serves as a foil to Levee, as although they are both musicians at heart, Ma understands the world and her situation and is naturally more cynical compared to Levee’s hope and optimism.
Going into this movie I had no idea what to expect or even what the film was about but was quite content with the drama I received. The entire story taking place within one afternoon adds a sense of intensity to the whole scenario and creates a fast pace to the events of the whole film. The plot of the story is quite simple but this proves to be a character-driven drama that is based upon everyone’s individual issues and ideas. The ideas talked about in the film are quite meaningful and there are still related issues today as the protagonists are all black people and during this period of time they aren’t treated well. The film really explores how during this time period people of colour were only valued if they could make a white man money and the rest of the coloured folk were not well looked upon. As I mentioned this is character-driven and the two main standouts are Ma Rainey and Levee. Levee ( as played by the late Chadwick Boseman) is an ambitious trumpet player who wants his own band and tries to please the owner of the recording studio by writing songs the way he wants so that Levee can become a star. Though Levee gets teased about his attempt to please the white man we learn that Levee has a traumatic past when it comes to white folk and he is just trying to find his personal gain. I felt that Chadwick Boseman did a good job with this performance as he played the smooth-talking musician with aspiring dreams while also conveying his temper and dark side in a good mix. Ma Rainey ( as played by Viola Davis) is a cynic/ realist who knows how the world works and how they view her as just a voice for singing so she does what she pleases and does not take criticism or advice from anyone else. The viewers really get to see how she views the world and knows that if she doesn’t push the world around it will trample her. My only complaint about the film is that the start is quite slow as it takes a while to establish the characters and it took me a bit to adjust to the style of the film.
All in all, a pretty solid film that I would recommend to anyone looking for a character-driven drama with a dark edge.
I guess overall, this movie was quite good. The only major downside is the beginning, as it was slower, and it didn’t captivate my attention as much. The other thing that wasn’t as good were some of the side characters. They just didn’t stand out as much to me.
Now, for the good things this movie did. The themes around race and racism were shown through many aspects of the story and the characters. The backstory of Levee was tragic and explains much of his actions and his decisions. The events of his past have scarred him and leads to his final drop into madness at the end of the movie more impactful, as he finally breaks down and makes impulsive decisions. I also liked the character of Ma, as she understood her current situation and used her past experiences to her advantage. She knew that she was being used for her voice, and so she was able to leverage that for some petty requests.
Overall, the movie was good. It had some nice characters and explored some deep themes around racism. The beginning is a bit slow though, but it starts to pick up after the movie turns to some dark and twisted areas seemingly out of nowhere.
I was entirely sure what to expect after reading the synopsis of this movie, but it is pretty much what it claims to be. A movie that only really takes place over a couple of days. If you are looking for a movie packed with plot development and action scenes, not the movie for you. If you are looking for a decent movie that has strong character development, a little slow to begin with, then this is the movie for you. While the plot line is fairly simple, there are a few twists and turns after the first 30 minutes. That first stretch is pretty darn slow, and not a lot happens. After that, we learn quite a few shocking details about one of our main characters, and the plot begins to take a darker than expected twist. These details surrounding our main character provides the spice this movie needed, and it made me sit straight up and pay a lot more attention than the first half did. No doubt, the late Chadwick Boseman’s character holds this movie together and gives it meaning.
This movie also tackles the racial injustices that existed in this time. These injustices are ones that few people can relate to today, but it is a great way to learn and provide awareness about the monstrosities that existed in our society.
The strongest areas of the movie are definitely the character development and dialogue. This movie is written in such a way that although there isn’t a whole lot that occurs, you are still going to be captivated and invest in the characters. The ending is also kinda sudden,dark and surprising, which was a nice touch. Definitely a good movie to go check out on Netflix, and only an hour and a half so you might even be able to fit it in between Christmas movies this holiday season.