Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: Film Review

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a Netflix exclusive biopic about one hot Chicago day when Ma Rainey, the “Mother of Blues,” is set to record a handful of her most popular records with her backing band. This movie, which was just added to Barack Obama’s “Favorite Movies and TV Shows of 2020” list, can be described as so much more than a musical biopic. It is a history lesson, a music lesson, a culture lesson, and so many other beautiful descriptions and details. 

This movie is shot in a limited amount of locations due to it being adapted from a play, allowing the acting, cinematography, and directing, all to be pushed toward the forefront of this art piece – and the acting takes full advantage. Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman both rightfully deserve their Oscar buzz that I’ve seen floating around the internet for the last few months leading up to this past Friday’s release. Viola gave a performance that absolutely warrants a sequel to her 2017 oscar winning speech. I have never seen any videos of Ma Rainey previous to me watching this biopic, but I believed in every emotion, reaction, and movement she portrayed. She is so empowering and purposefully brash to the white men that are trying to maintain importance over her. It’s really incredible to see on screen. 

I also really loved her gold front to be honest. Even though Viola put on such a powerful performance, I have to say that Chadwick’s performance in this movie is what stole the show. The “don’t tell Levee how to handle the white man” monologue is what’s going to be shown when his name is mentioned at the Oscars ceremony this upcoming year. 

Even though two main performers stole the show, that doesn’t mean that the second or third bill doesn’t deserve their flowers too, especially Coleman Domingo, who played the trombone player named Cutler. Domingo was also in the recently released “Euphoria” special episode to hold the stans over, like me, until the new season returns sometime in 2021. 

The acting was absolutely top-notch, but the cinematography and directing were terrific. It’s hard to keep people engaged in a movie that only takes place in two or three enclosed locations, but the camera movements that were used throughout this 90-minute film did exactly that. The cinematography was beautiful in the way they perfectly lit the black actors to make them look rich and brown and glowing. The lighting set up to make it look like the natural light from the set’s window was a stage spotlight. I was in my room putting up a thousand chef kisses to the screen. Just incredible stuff.

Elijah Horton is a Long Island born, Orlando-based writer and photographer. Since he was a kid, Elijah has had a deep passion for movies, music, and photography.

That passion led him to Full Sail where he graduated with a film degree and a desire to make a film of his own one day. For now he’s just pretty good at writing about them.

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