Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the Story of Levee

 In Drama, Everything, Recommended
Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Directed by George C. Wolfe
Written by Ruben Santiago-Hudson

The review:

Despite the title, this is really the story of Levee (Chadwick Boseman), the trumpet player in Ma Rainey’s band, but Viola Davis is a commanding presence all on her own.* As the hot day gets hotter and the recording session drags on, a lot of stories spool out of Rainy, Levee, and the other band members. It’s a film full of hard truths, great performances, an atmosphere that can’t be beat,** and a couple good punches in the gut, like any great story should have.***

The verdict: Recommended

Cost: Netflix monthly fee $8.99
Where watched: at home

Consider also watching:

Further sentences:

*I’d love to see both Boseman and Davis get a slew of awards nominations for their work on this film.
**From the sweat on the musicians in the recording studio to the tent revival to the stage performance this movie brings all the details.
***It’s a solid play-to-screenplay adaptation, too.


  • What did you think of Ma Rainey’s attitude during the recording session?
  • What was your favorite period detail?

Favorite IMDB trivia item:

Denzel Washington, who produced this film, had been a mentor to Chadwick Boseman since his college years. When Denzel Washington received his 2019 AFI Lifetime Achievement Award, Boseman recounted that he was one of nine of Phylicia Rashad’s Howard University acting students for whom Washington paid the full summer-program tuition at the British Academy of Dramatic Acting in Oxford.

Other reviews of Ma Rainy’s Black Bottom:

Orange background with a white frame. Text: I know what I'm doin'. Let me handle them my way. —Ma Rainy's Black Bottom. Read the three sentence movie review.
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  • Allie

    Totally agree with your thoughts! I didn’t think too deeply about the character of Ma Rainey until much later but now I have to wonder – was she meant to be so dislikeable? Is that an accurate depiction of her personality or was that an off day?

    • Patricia Collins

      I think that was what she had to do to survive being a Black woman in show business at the time. So many people in power just waiting to take advantage of her.

  • Sara K.

    I read/listened to a few really strong biographies of Ma Rainey after watching this. As you note in the comment above – she was formidable because she had to be. This was a powerful watch–a master class in acting.

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