Race, music, strong women at heart of movie ‘Ma Rainey’

Film drama “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” may be set in the racially divided United States of the 1920s and was written almost 40 years ago, but it arrives with much to say about today. Starring Viola Davis as Black blues singer Ma Rainey and the late Chadwick Boseman as a hot-headed trumpet player, the movie comes to Netflix on Friday as Hollywood and the United States grapple with systemic racism.
“The reason why (the film) resonates today is because racism hasn’t been destroyed. It has just evolved,” said Davis. “You can’t go through 400 years of systemic racism and policies and practices and not have it resonate today in education, in how women are paid and how Black people are paid, and how worthy we’re seen,” she added.
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” takes place on a hot Chicago day in 1927 during a tense recording session where the diva-like singer engages in a battle of wills with her white manager and her band over money and control of her music. Davis, who won a supporting actress Oscar in 2017 and is widely expected to be nominated next year, said she saw Ma as a liberated woman “meaning she was not a woman of her time because she was a woman who unapologetically knew her worth.
“ Adapted from August Wilson’s play of the same name, “Ma Rainey” was filmed in July 2019, a year before street protests broke out nationwide over the killings of Black people by police. “To me, (the movie) is a conversation about how can we have a future until we come to terms with, and heal, and address the sins and scars of the past? That to me is the American conversation,” said director George C. Wolfe. Davis said the same conversation also applied to the entertainment industry, which is under pressure to increase diversity behind and in front of the camera. “A lot of our artistry, a lot of our imagination, a lot of our ideas are not seen as good as our white counterparts. So there’s a lot of things that still resonate because they haven’t changed,” she said. — Reuters