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BWW Blog: My Thoughts on MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM

Could this August Wilson classic win big at the Oscars?

BWW Blog: My Thoughts on MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM

For almost a decade now, Netflix has been distributing original content, giving its customers a wide variety of series and films to choose from. The streaming giant began producing original programming in 2013 with "House of Cards" and hasn't slowed down since. Now, eight years later, Netflix has received numerous accolades for its original films and series, including eight Oscars, 37 Emmys, and four Golden Globes.

2020 was actually a really great year for Netflix films. I saw several that I really enjoyed. Of those, three were based on plays (and a musical) that had previously been staged on Broadway. Ryan Murphy (of "Glee" and "American Horror Story" fame) was responsible for two of these: the film adaptations of Mart Crowley's "The Boys in the Band" and the hit musical "The Prom".

The third film I watched (which was one of the last that Netflix released in 2020) was the George C. Wolfe-directed adaptation of August Wilson's 1982 play "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom". This is a play I was required to read for a class during my freshman year of college... that I didn't read (I'm expecting a text from the instructor of that class any minute now). I guess watching the film was some kind of attempt to make up for not reading the play, but I also really wanted to see it because I had heard nothing but great things about it.

BWW Blog: My Thoughts on MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM
Viola Davis as Ma Rainey in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"

"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" gives us a fictionalized glimpse at what a day in the recording studio was like for legendary blues singer Ma Rainey and her quartet of backing musicians. When tensions rise throughout the course of the day, the recording session ends in tragedy.

While it wasn't my favorite of the films I saw in 2020, it was certainly one of the best. I thought the production and costume designs were fantastic. As the story progressed I became a little upset that I never read the play my freshman year because it was so good. Above all, though, the greatest parts of this film were the performances, particularly those of Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman.

Aided by costumes and makeup, Davis completely disappears into her role as the titular blues singer. She gives a very commanding and powerful performance that could very well earn her a second Oscar. Boseman, however, is the standout performer of this film; he manages to steal every scene in which he appears. Boseman plays Levee, an overconfident trumpeter who hopes to one day have his own band. There are many layers to this character, and Boseman explores them with ease. I can't think of anyone else who could have done a better job at telling Levee's story.

Boseman sadly died of colon cancer in August 2020, making "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" his final film appearance.

BWW Blog: My Thoughts on MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM
Chadwick Boseman in
his final performance
as Levee in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"

For the past few weeks I have, for whatever reason, made it a point to watch new films that received critical praise upon release (especially if they've generated some Oscar buzz) and tweet my predictions for the Oscars those films will be nominated for. "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" is one of those. Immediately after watching the film, I tweeted that I predict it will receive Oscar nominations for:

-Best Picture

-Best Adapted Screenplay

-Best Actress (Viola Davis)

-Best Actor (Chadwick Boseman)

-Best Cinematography

-Best Production Design

-Best Costume Design

-Best Makeup and Hairstyling

In addition to these predictions, I also tweeted that a nod for Best Sound is possible, as well as a Best Director nomination for George C. Wolfe, but I wouldn't bet on either. I also made it clear that I believe Chadwick Boseman should absolutely win the award for Best Actor, which would make him the third actor to receive a posthumous acting Oscar, after Peter Finch (Best Actor for "Network" in 1976) and Heath Ledger (Best Supporting Actor for "The Dark Knight" in 2009).

BWW Blog: My Thoughts on MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM
Chadwick Boseman's performance
could make him the third actor in
history to win a posthumous acting Oscar.

Do I think that "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" is going to sweep the Oscars this year? Absolutely not. Another Netflix film, "Mank", will most likely have most of the ceremony's biggest awards in the bag. It could even put Chadwick Boseman in a tight race with Gary Oldman for Best Actor; personally, I would be fine with either of them winning, but I would much rather see the award go to Boseman. If anything, it'll be a major contender for Best Adapted Screenplay, possibly alongside Charlie Kaufman's "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" (also Netflix).

I believe "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" will go down as one of the best films of this decade, much like August Wilson will continue to go down as one of the greatest American Playwrights. Wilson's works will always be an important part of African American history, and to turn them into films for new audiences to see is one of the greatest ways to preserve his legacy.

I highly recommend watching this film if you haven't already. Even if you aren't familiar with August Wilson, you will enjoy every minute of it.


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