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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom dvd

Tensions rise when trailblazing blues singer Ma Rainey and her band gather at a recording studio in Chicago in 1927


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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a 2020 American biographical musical drama film directed by George C. Wolfe and written by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, based on the play of the same name by August Wilson. The film, and its source play, focus on Ma Rainey, an influential blues singer, and dramatize a turbulent recording session in 1920s Chicago.


On July 2, 1927, Ma Rainey is a highly regarded, strong willed blues singer who has recently been contracted by white producers. A recording session for songs by Ma is scheduled by her manager Irvin to take place at Paramount recording studios in Chicago. Seasoned Georgia Jazz Band members Toledo, Cutler, and Slow Drag arrive on time without Ma, frustrating her producer, Mel Sturdyvant. They are soon joined by Levee Green, the band’s overconfident trumpeter who has shown Sturdyvant his original compositions in the hopes of breaking away from Ma and getting his own record deal. The rest of the band disapproves of this.

Ma arrives an hour late with her girlfriend, Dussie Mae, and her nephew, Sylvester. Immediately, she clashes with Sturdyvant and her manager Irvin, making numerous demands. Insulted that the Coca-Cola she requested has not been provided, Ma refuses to begin the recording session, assigning Slow Drag and Sylvester to get her one. Later, she insists to Sturdyvant that the opening words of the album be spoken by Sylvester, who has a blocking stutter. As a result, the group has to do multiple takes of the song “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” much to everyone’s frustration.

Ma confides to Cutler that her white bosses are only interested in her voice, and would otherwise regard her as “just a dog in the alley.” Meanwhile, Levee and Dussie Mae have sex in the practice room before being interrupted by Slow Drag.

The group finally manages to get through the first track after multiple takes, but discovers an equipment failure has caused it not to be recorded. The band blames Levee, who they think tripped over a wire while eyeing Dussie, though it’s revealed to have been separately damaged. Their argument leads to the religious Cutler telling a story about a preacher he once knew who got stranded in a small town and was humiliated by a group of white men who tore up his Bible and forced him to dance. Levee brushes off the story, saying that if there was a God, then he would care for Black people, which he never has. Cutler attacks Levee in anger, leading Levee to briefly brandish a knife in retaliation.

The group finally finishes recording, but Ma fires Levee soon afterwards, believing his ambition and troublemaking to be detrimental to the band. Levee then meets with Sturdyvant about his original songs, but discovers that he will only purchase the songs, insisting that there is no market for them. Levee suffers a mental breakdown, and, after Toledo accidentally steps on his new shoes, Levee fatally stabs him in the back with the knife. Cutler and Slow Drag leave in horror as a regretful Levee cradles Toledo’s corpse. Later, Sturdyvant records Levee’s songs with a band consisting entirely of white men (supposedly Paul Whiteman’s orchestra).


Chadwick Boseman as Levee Green
Viola Davis as Ma Rainey
Maxayn Lewis as Ma’s singing voice
Glynn Turman as Toledo
Colman Domingo as Cutler
Michael Potts as Slow Drag
Jonny Coyne as Mel Sturdyvant
Taylour Paige as Dussie Mae
Jeremy Shamos as Irvin
Dusan Brown as Sylvester
Joshua Harto as Policeman
Quinn VanAntwerp as Band Singer


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