Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Review: A True Masterpiece


Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is truly a masterpiece of a film. Chadwick Boseman holds his own up against Viola Davis with a powerful final performance.

ma rainey's black bottom netflix poster

Knowing that Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is Chadwick Boseman’s final on screen performance is just one of the several reasons I wanted to watch this movie. I also completely adore Viola Davis, and the trailer had me knowing this was going to be an incredible film.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom did not disappoint. Sure, it is a movie about music, the blues, and the 1920, but it so much more than that. The dialogue between the white record producers and the black band, and even Ma Rainey herself, shows just how difficult it was for them in this time. Even being a popular singer. There were conversations about how Ma couldn’t even catch a cab in the white part of the city. 

This movie takes place mainly in two rooms — the recording room and the band rehearsal room. We get a quick glimpse of a blue’s club at the beginning, and outside shots here and there, but the majority is focused on these two rooms. As the band members laugh and joke with each other, we also dive deep into their backgrounds, and the struggles each of them have had.

ma rainey's black bottom netflix

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020): (L to R) Chadwick Boseman as Levee, Viola Davis as Ma Rainey, Colman Domingo as Cutler. Cr. David Lee / Netflix

A True Masterpiece

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is based off of a play and Ma Rainey is the only real life character. She is also the only LGBTQ character. Viola does a phenomenal job portraying this larger than life woman. Not only does she show up to her recording session late, to prove that she is the boss no doubt, she puts her foot down every step of the way.

Ma makes sure that her music is going to be recorded her way, and she won’t accept any changes to it. She is powerful, and makes her presence known. And when Levee starts to eye her pretty little girlfriend, she lets him know that he is fixing to get fired if he keeps it up. Even his bandmates warn Levee not to mess with Ma. 

ma rainey's black bottom chadwick boseman

MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM (2020) Chadwick Boseman as Levee. Cr. David Lee/NETFLIX

Chadwick’s Final Role

Chadwick Boseman portrays Levee, the trumpet player in the band, but he has his own agenda. He has been writing songs and the record producer has even discussed allowing him to record them. He plays his way, not just the notes on the paper, which is something Ma is not too thrilled about. 

He also starts to flirt with Ma’s girlfriend, right in front of her. Chadwick and Viola are most definitely the standouts in this movie, and to see them go toe to toe is quite incredible. While they are rarely in a scene together, when they are, they both claim the spotlight. 

ma rainey's black bottom chadwick boseman

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020): (L to R) Glynn Turman as Toldeo, Chadwick Boseman as Levee, Michael Potts as Slow Drag, and Colman Domingo as Cutler. Cr. David Lee / Netflix

Chadwick brings so much to the character of Levee, proving that he had so much more to give, and he was taken from us way too soon. From the way he smiles while plotting something else in his head, to the way he is so damn proud of his $11 shoes.

There is something inside this man and it takes a while for us to truly see what he is capable of. The final scene we get of him sent chills down my spine because of just how truly amazing Chadwick’s performance is.

ma rainey's black bottom

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020): (L to R) Chadwick Boseman (“Levee”), Dusan Brown (“Sylvester”), Colman Domingo (“Cutler”), Michael Potts (“Slow Drag”), Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey”), Glynn Turman (“Toldeo”) Cr. David Lee / Netflix

Overall Thoughts

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a a movie that sucked me in from the beginning. I could not turn away because of how powerful it was. It did feel like a play, which it is based off of one, because of the two main settings, but the way they moved between the two was seamless. 

Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman give such incredible performances that you will be entranced with them both. The character arc for Chadwick’s character, Levee, made my heart break a little more just knowing it was his final performance. That man had so much more to give us. 

If I had to come up with one complaint about the movie, it is that it does seem to drag a little too long at parts. But it clocks in at an hour and a half, which is more than worth the time to watch it. A powerful and emotional must watch.

ma rainey's black bottom

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020): Viola Davis as Ma Rainey. Cr. David Lee / Netflix

About Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

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.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is currently in select theaters and
comes to Netflix on December 18th!

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