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Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
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Review Roundup: MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM on Netflix, Starring Viola Davis & Chadwick Boseman


See what the critics are saying about the play-to-film adaptation!

Review Roundup: MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM on Netflix, Starring Viola Davis & Chadwick Boseman

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is coming! Netflix will release the film adaptation of August Wilson's play on December 18th. Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman star - this will mark Boseman's final on-screen role.

When Ma Rainey, the "Queen of the Blues," makes a record in a studio in Chicago, 1927, tensions boil between her, her white agent and producer, and bandmates.

Adapted from two-time Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson's play, MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM celebrates the transformative power of the blues and the artists who refuse to let society's prejudices dictate their worth. Directed by George C. Wolfe and adapted for the screen by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, the film is produced by Fences Oscar® nominees Denzel Washington and Todd Black. Colman Domingo, Glynn Turman, Michael Potts, Taylour Paige and Dusan Brown co-star alongside Grammy® winner Branford Marsalis' score.

The critics have spoken...

David Clarke, BroadwayWorld: "Releasing on Netflix and in select theaters on December 18, MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM will be a film event that is hard to miss. And, honestly, that is anything but bad. As a playwright, August Wilson is one of the voices that legitimized black theater in the views of mainstream, white audiences. If we are lucky, this film will further legitimize black film with mainstream, white audiences. In doing so, it'll also hopefully build conversations around fair and equal compensation for work, among others, as that particular predicament is integral to the plot and character motivations of this period piece that is still unresolved almost 100 years after this film takes place."

A.O. Scott, New York Times: Not because it's timely in an obvious or literal way - the argument of Wilson's oeuvre is that time to reckon with racism is always now, because Black lives have always mattered - but because of some unexpected emotional resonances. Wilson's text is a study in perseverance, but it's haunted by loss, and to encounter it at the end of 2020 is to feel the weight of accumulated absences. Some are permanent and tragic, like losing Boseman at just 43. Others are, we hope, temporary. This is a rendering of a work written for the stage that begins with a concert - a sweaty, sensual spectacle of the blues in action. It's also a movie that you'll most likely encounter in your living room or on your laptop, further confounding an inevitable identity conundrum. Should we call this theater, cinema or television - or a sometimes graceful, sometimes clumsy hybrid of all three?

Eric Kohn, IndieWire: "An actor's showcase for Viola Davis as the show-stopping singer and the late Chadwick Boseman as the scheming trumpeter angling to steal her spotlight, director George C. Wolfe's reverential adaptation livens up the material with sizzling color and vivid closeups. Save for a few digressions, however, Wolfe and screenwriter Ruben Santiago-Hudson have put the play into the movie, rather than vice versa."

Peter Debruge, Variety: "How fortunate that Boseman's legacy should include this film, an homage to Black art that's tough enough to confront the costs of making it."

Oliver Jones, Observer: "Discussing shoes, molecules, the existence or nonexistence of God and the devil, it is in scenes like these, in which the lines take on different meaning and bounce off each character's past experiences, that you can feel the full force of Wilson's play barrel down from the stage and into your living room."

Fionnuala Halligan, Screen Daily: "There's something biblical about Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, a parable acted out under the weight of America's original sin. An abundance of monologues gives a clear indication as to the stage origins of this Jazz Age-story, but they also add to the fire-and-brimstone feeling accentuated by director George C. Wolfe's darkly enticing adaptation."

Caryn James, BBC News: "George C Wolfe, best known as a theatre director who sometimes makes films (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks) doesn't shy away from the material's theatrical roots. The film takes place largely in two down and dirty rooms, the recording studio and a basement where the band rehearses, but it doesn't feel stage bound. Wolfe finds the right balance between letting Wilson's trademark monologues flow and shooting them in a cinematic way that keeps the film moving."

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap: "Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman get the meatiest roles here - and make the most of absolutely every second they're on camera - but this Netflix feature is just as much a showcase for the talents of the always-brilliant Colman Domingo and the legendary Glynn Turman. Wolfe not only guides his top-flight cast to greatness, but he also keeps the plays themes of art vs. commerce and representation vs. exploitation front and center."

Esther Zuckerman, Thrillist: "Seeing Boseman one last time will inevitably be the draw for many queuing up Netflix to watch Ma Rainey, which also stars Viola Davis as the blues singer around whom the narrative orbits, but it's also an immensely satisfying rendering of one of the best plays of the 20th Century, a reminder that Wilson's work should be as essential to American education as Shakespeare or Arthur Miller."

Robbie Collin, The Telegraph: "Whether or not Boseman knew it would be his last performance while giving it is moot. It is unquestionably his finest, crackling with passion, intelligence and anger (righteous and otherwise), and delivered with an eyeball-magnetising feline grace. What's more, it feels anything but final."

J. Don Birnam, The Splash Report: "Davis, a veteran of Wilson's material focused on the African AMERICAN EXPERIENCE in the early half of the 20th Century from her Oscar-winning turn in Fences, is a natural for the role. She exudes the confidence and disdain required of her, while utilizing her entire body to convey the sense of scale of who was clearly an imposing, impressive, and memorable figure."

Shannon Miller, The A.V. Club: "Ma Rainey's is the ballad of a promising talent whose rising star is unceremoniously dimmed. That aspect takes on fresh significance-a uniquely cruel irony-in George C. Wolfe's new adaptation. After all, Levee is played by Chadwick Boseman, in his final screen role, shot before his shocking death in August. The film has more than its share of toast-worthy elements, from its sharp ensemble to its dutiful nods to 1920s Chicago and Old Hollywood, courtesy of Tobias A. Schliessler's illuminating cinematography. But the appearance of the actor, in one last tremendous star performance, only enhances the material's tragic power."

Michael Phillips, The Chicago Tribune: "To see Boseman, who died of colorectal cancer in August at age 43, tear into the role of Levee, August Wilson's restless, reckless trumpet player in Netflix's arresting adaptation of "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" - well, it's enough to make you cry. And to rejoice."

Amon Warmann, Empire: "It's in those discussions where the timelessness of Wilson's writing, adapted for the screen by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, really shines through. Navigating an entertainment system that's rigged against people of colour, ownership over one's art, and knowing your worth are all things that Black artists still grapple with today."

Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly: "Broadway has been shuttered for months now of course, and will be indefinitely. But Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, a jewel in the crown of the late August Wilson's acclaimed Pittsburgh Cycle (though in fact it takes place almost entirely in Chicago) is exactly the kind of chewy, loquacious showcase even the most decorated performers - including Viola Davis, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her turn in the 2017 film version of Wilson's Fences - dream of."

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: "Viola Davis burns a hole in the screen projecting the indomitable pride and hard-won self-worth of the legendary early 20th century blues singer named in the title of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, one of 10 plays that comprise August Wilson's epic cycle depicting 100 years of African American experience."

Justin Chang, The L.A. Times: "Most of all, there is the late Chadwick Boseman, giving a furiously inventive screen performance that also happens to be his last. It's one spellbinding final reminder of what we've lost, and of how easily God, to invoke one of Wilson's unseen major characters, can giveth and taketh away."

Johnny Oleksinki, New York Post: "The mind hops between wonderment at a sterling performance that switches from mischief to despair with balletic grace, to paralyzing depression knowing this is the last time we'll see this talent in action."

Odie Henderson, "It wouldn't be August Wilson without great speeches. "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" has several, and Hudson keeps the author's generosity in dispensing them to all the main characters."

Melissa Rose Bernardo, New York Stage Review: "Reflecting on Wilson's almost painful foreshadowing, it now seems inevitable that Boseman would be cast as Levee in this George C. Wolfe-directed, Denzel Washington-produced Netflix adaptation. (Also inevitable: Boseman's posthumous Best Actor Academy Award. Wait for it.)"

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