While many of this year’s Oscar contenders have already bowed at fall festivals, one key player in the derby remaining is Netflix’s August Wilson adaptation, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Directed by Tony Award winner George C. Wolfe and written by Ruben Santiago-Hudson from Wilson’s play, the film’s top-drawer cast includes Viola Davis, Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, Michael Potts, and Chadwick Boseman, in a posthumous performance that also marks his last. Watch the first trailer for the film below.
In “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” tensions and temperatures escalate throughout the course of an afternoon recording session in 1920s Chicago. A band of musicians await the arrival of one trailblazing performer, the Mother of the Blues, Ma Rainey. She’s played by Viola Davis, the Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actress for another August Wilson adaptation, director Denzel Washington’s “Fences.” (Washington is also a producer on “Ma Rainey’s.”) Late to the session, Ma Rainey stirs up ado with her white manager and producer over the control of her music. Meanwhile, the band waits in a claustrophobic rehearsal room, where trumpeter Levee (Boseman), with ambitions of his own, spurs his fellow musicians into revealing truths that will change all their lives.
The film arrives as part of a major deal with Netflix to turn nine of Wilson’s iconic plays into films. The pact was originally set up at HBO before Netflix took over. Filming on “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” began in July of 2019 in Pittsburgh and wrapped in August of that year. Boseman died of colon cancer on August 28 while “Ma Rainey” was still in post-production. He’s also an awards contender this year for another Netflix film, Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods,” which could make the late actor the first person to earn two posthumous Academy Awards nominations in a single year.
During a Netflix press event revealing the trailer and 12 minutes of first footage from the film on Monday, Davis said, “Chadwick was an artist. That’s who he was. He loved it. He demanded it in every single way. He was incredible.” Director Wolfe added, “Chadwick put his entire being into Levee. Levee demands that herculean scale of the role. He’s a phenomenal character. [Boseman] put every ounce of energy, heart, and passion [into it].”
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is set to debut on Netflix December 18.
Anne Thompson contributed reporting.