Film Reviews Cat

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020)


Levee (played by Chadwick Boseman) is a traumatized musician that tries to innovate his overall performance. However, the established diva Ma Rainey (played by Viola Davis) doesn’t want to hear of such modern innovations. All of this occurs in Chicago during 1927 which means that the story shows you the aspects of a segregated society. 

This 94 minutes long movie tries to establish an interesting plot which focuses on the following; diva versus upcoming musician. And the impact of a segregated society on an individual. This means that the focus is mainly on drama, and music. In theory this is a very interesting premise. However, in practicality it seems to be more of an educational movie than a well developed plot movie. The reason behind this is that too many scenes don’t contribute to the overall story, or are simply over the top, or melodramatic. There are not enough interesting events going on to keep me interested. This is because too many scenes are ‘fillers’ instead of ‘contributors’ to the story. One could even go as far as to say that this is more of an dramatized educational movie about Ma Rainey and the impact of segregation. And as an educational movie I would grade it a 10/10, but this is a feature film. But it is way too boring to be a feature film. I am not saying that a movie should contain intense action scenes, but one should at least expect a more developed story which engages the audience. Because nobody wants to experience merely a sequence of scenes which often don’t contribute to the overall storyline. Therefore, this entire movie feels flat.

The question that you should ask yourself is if you really want to see a ‘slice of life’ kind of a film. You might be interested in this if you enjoy a story about the blues singer Ma Rainey, or if you want to know the impact of segregation. However, there are much better movies made if you are looking for the latter. Additionally, the acting is convincing and the overall performance is good. However, I had an issue with one specific scene in which Levee (played by Chadwick Boseman) committed a certain crime. I understand that this was related to his trauma, and that this knife scene is based on the concept, or principle of ‘chekhov’s gun’. However, it did feel very much out of character, and a little silly and totally absurd. I would even argue that this specific scene is so melodramatic that it destroyed, or at best destabilized the rest of the film. 

Alternatively, this movie was only made to educate people about the Chicago blues scene of the 1920’s. And if this is the case then there is no reason why this movie was shot as a feature film. But I am repeating myself again and you actually might enjoy these kinds of historical dramas. I guess it’s more about available alternatives than about quality. Therefore, you might enjoy watching “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” because you have nothing else to do and no other similar movie is currently available to you. However, I still argue that it would be better to do other things with your time.

The conclusion is that I am disappointed because they could have done so much more with this premise if they would have rewritten the script a little. The acting and directing are good but it can’t save this movie. Maybe, this is a typical 2020 movie which is solely made to get your mind off the global pandemic. Another interesting fact is that this film was not shot in Chicago, but in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Such things happen often but let’s not pretend that this is meant to be some sort of grand epic blues drama. Let’s be honest and see it for what it is; an empty filler. 


Director: George C. Wolfe. Writers: Ruben Santiago-Hudson (screenplay by), August Wilson (based on the play written by).

Viola DavisMa Rainey
Chadwick BosemanLevee
Colman DomingoCutler
Glynn TurmanToledo
Michael PottsSlow Drag
Jeremy ShamosIrvin
Jonny CoyneSturdyvant
Taylour PaigeDussie Mae
Dusan BrownSylvester
Joshua HartoPoliceman
Quinn VanAntwerpBand Singer

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