Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” A-one, a-two, a-you know what to do.

Chicago, 1927. An ambitious trumpeter named Levee Green is playing in a band lead by the famous “Mother of the Blues”: Ma Rainey. He is an overconfident man with a clear picture of his future career. She is a highly regarded blues singer with a strong character and many dislikes towards Levee. Between them, a band, a horrible recording session and Ma’s young girlfriend, Levee has a crush on. A feast for havoc and a movie with a lot of stories to be told.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a movie adaptation produced by Denzel Washington, Todd Black and Dany Wolf of the same-named play by August Wilson. Starting the movie I thought it would be about a trumpeter learning from Ma Rainey and becoming famous. I was wrong. The movie is filled with tension between those two and I was really surprised which way the story went. We don’t get to see the career of a no-name artist becoming wealthy. Instead, we are told a human story with no high stakes like the saving of the planet. That for, the story takes place on just one afternoon in one place. Every member of the blues band has his or her own backstory which lets you connect to the character on a surprisingly deep level. The movie doesn’t hesitate to bring up topics like racism and religion and to criticise them.

Above all of it hangs the sword of Damocles of Chadwick Boseman. Despite his death is some months ago now, there was this one scene I couldn’t help it. This scene lets you appreciate life like no other. I don’t even know why I’m so sad about his death in particular, I mean a number of actors and artists die throughout the year. It is because he was only 44 years old? Because he was the Black Panther? Because no one knew about colon cancer? Or was it the imagination of his friends and family having to live without this magnificent inspiring person?

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” marks his last film appearance and pays tribute to him. I couldn’t think of a better movie to be the end of his career. May he reach out with both hands and let Bast and Sekhmet lead him into the green veld where he can run forever.