Every year, without exception, I look forward to Awards season — it is a special time for movie nerds like me. It is a solid, two-month stretch of movie watching and catching up with some of the best films of the year. But also, it is a time when I have the chance to watch some of the most incredible movie performances of the year.
2020 was unique from previous years in terms of movie releases and Award contenders — the global pandemic forced all Oscar hopefuls to be released simultaneously on both movie theaters and streaming services. I love this format, and frankly, I feel that this streaming option should become the norm from now on.
HBO, Netflix, Prime, and Hulu had some of the most compelling movies of 2020 in their streaming catalogs. But Netflix, I think, had the upper hand; The Trial of the Chicago 7, Mank, Da 5 Bloods, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom were some of the most interesting and well-made movies of 2020.
On top of all that, Chadwick Boseman’s final on-screen performances on Da 5 Bloods and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom were nothing short of astounding; (both movies were Netflix productions).
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is based on the 1982 play of the same name by August Wilson and beautifully directed by George C. Wolfe. Most of the movie takes place over a day — during a recording session in 1920s Chicago and all of the issues and conflicts that come to the surface throughout the recording session.
Ma Rainey was known as the Mother of the Blues, and Viola Davis (Ma Rainey) delivers an incredible performance, capturing the essence and physicality of this real-life character. There are only a handful of photographs of Ma Rainey in existence; I think there is only a total of 7 pictures, from what I read somewhere. Viola Davis is simply brilliant here — her physical demeanor is central to the story. There is a specific kind of power in the way she walks and stands. She knows her worth and demands to be treated with respect while standing her ground no matter what.
Levee Green (Chadwick Boseman) is a trumpet player and the youngest member of Ma’s band. The conflict and the power struggles between Levee and Ma build up as the story moves along. Levee is looking to make his way in the world, but he refuses to play by the established rules. Boseman gives an exceptional final movie performance.
Top-notch performances by the rest of the cast. Most notably by the other three members of Ma’s band. Toledo (Glyn Turman), Cutler (Colman Domingo), and Slow Drag (Michael Potts) all shared unique life experiences, and their personal stories brought a particular sensibility to their characters.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a movie that feels like a stage play with lots of moving parts. Excellent performances all around, where race, social status, and music take center stage.
Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020). Streaming on Netflix.