Chadwick Bosemans final performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is one of searching intensity – iNews

Ma Raineys Black Bottom is set during a heady bygone era, conjuring up 1927 Chicago at the tumultuous height of blues and jazz, but it is far from a nostalgia trip.

An experienced blues accompaniment band working with the legendary Mother of Blues, Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), find themselves scuppered at every turn both by her battles with weaselly white music management, and by bristling internal tensions with an arrogant new horn player, Levee (Chadwick Boseman).

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Based on August Wilsons 1984 stage play of the same name, the film mainly takes place inside the recording studio, as the principals bicker, philosophise and grow frustrated with one another.

Davis is imposing and fascinating as Ma, who suffers no fools and proves difficult for all the right reasons: she has every good motive to be suspicious of her white management and refuses to give an inch, knowing that they will tolerate her attitude only for as long as it takes them to get her voice trapped in their little boxes.

Sweat pours down her face and bosom and, finely dressed and heavily made-up though she is, she reeks of world-weariness; her money seems to mean little on her way to record as she is stared down by notably lighter-skinned well-off black Chicagoans.

The film might suffer slightly from its theatrical origins, with its starchy old-time costumes and its confined feel. But for fans of the storied a bunch of people arguing in one room genre of movies, this shouldnt be too much of an issue, especially with such cracklingperformances.

The clash of personalities keeps things dynamic; old-time blues man Toledo (Glynn Turman) tells the classic yarn of the man who sold his soul to the Devil; weary bandleader Cutler (the stalwart Colman Domingo), is level-headed until religion enters the conversation. But Levee is the cat among the pigeons, cajoling and taunting.

The late Chadwick Bosemans final performance is one of searching intensity and live wire unpredictability as a spitfire of a young musician who doesnt grasp that what Ma Rainey says goes.

The anguish of his role is haunting, and in the limited space of that warehouse-style studio, each character brings with them a sense of the jumping, hedonistic world outside, where modernity clashes with the deep and long-festering racism of old. As Levees awful backstory is slowly revealed, we see the loose, conversational air of the film give way to an undercurrent of deep despair.

In a tragic, final-act turn, Mas conviction that white folk cant really understand the blues is expressed in deed as well as word. The poignant conclusion is as bitter as it is heartbreaking, because, fictional though it is, its story of racism, rage and lost promise shows an essential truth.

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Chadwick Bosemans final performance in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is one of searching intensity - iNews

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