Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Will Gompertz Reviews Film With Chadwick Boseman & Viola Davis

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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Will Gompertz Reviews Film With Chadwick Boseman & Viola Davis

As a rule of thumb, the bigger the star the more outlandish the dressing room request.

It has been reported that Kanye West stipulates Versace towels being on hand at all times, and his missus insists the carpet is ironed. Apparently, Madonna wants a brand new loo seat wherever and whenever she goes, and Van Halen’s 53-page “rider” is said to list pickled herring, KY Jelly and M&Ms with all the brown ones removed (to check the venue is paying attention to the tiny details). Other alleged diva-ish demands that have found their way into the press are Mariah Carey’s desire for an ever-present attendant to whom she can pass her used chewing gum, and Marilyn Manson asking for a bald-headed, toothless hooker.

Given all that, you’d think a modest requirement of one measly bottle of Coca-Cola wouldn’t be too much to ask: a cheap, cold drink to whet the whistle in a sweltering recording studio. Surely that’s a basic fridge-filler made available to any rookie performer starting out, let alone one of the biggest singing stars in America.

Not back in the 1920s it wasn’t. At least, not if you were black.

That’s how the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson (1945 – 2005) tells it in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, one of his celebrated “Pittsburgh Cycle” of plays, which chronicle the 20th-Century African American experience.

Written in 1982 and first performed two years later to glowing reviews, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom explores talent, ambition, religion, family, race and the historic exploitation of black recording artists by white producers.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom had its first onstage reading at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Connecticut in 1982 with (from L-R)Leonard Jackson (Slow Drag) Charles S Dutton (Levee) and Joe Seneca (Cutler)IMAGE COPYRIGHTVINCENT SCARANO/EUGENE O’NEILL THEATER CENTER
image captionMa Rainey’s Black Bottom had its first onstage reading at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Connecticut in 1982, with (from l-r) Leonard Jackson (Slow Drag) Charles S Dutton (Levee) and Joe Seneca (Cutler)
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August Wilson said in an interview "I think my plays offer [white Americans] a different way to look at black Americans"IMAGE COPYRIGHTALAMY
image captionAugust Wilson said in an interview “I think my plays offer [white Americans] a different way to look at black Americans”

It is a black producer, Denzel Washington, who is behind its highly anticipated screen adaptation, soon to be released on Netflix.

The venerated actor has been entrusted by August Wilson’s estate to make films of all 10 plays in the cycle, a long-term project that got off to a very good start with Fences in 2016, in which Viola Davis co-starred and deservedly won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as an undermined matriarch.

 
image captionDenzel Washington took on the role of Troy Maxson and Viola Davis acted as his wife, Rose in the adaptation of August Wilson’s play Fences, about the struggles of a working class African American family in the 1950s

She could well get the twin-set with a leading actress Oscar for her portrayal of the imperious, glorious Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett, known to all as Ma Rainey, the “Mother of the Blues”.

https://www.bbc.com

Davis brings a swaggering, menacing belligerence to a regal character with the soul of an artist, the heart of a lover, and the emotional armour of a tank.

Ma Rainey is not standing for any nonsense from either the cantankerous studio owner Mel Sturdyvant (Jonny Coyne), or her weaselly manger, Irvin (Jeremy Ramos), who has booked the legendary singer to record an album of her songs.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Will Gompertz Reviews Film With Chadwick Boseman & Viola Davis

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