Book Vs. Movie: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
The August Wilson Play Vs. the 2021 Movie
Pittsburgh native August Wilson (1945-2005) is one of the most successful playwrights of the 20th Century; with a collection of works that came to be known as The Pittsburgh Cycle, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama twice in his career and was inducted into American Theater Hall of Fame in 2006. His 1984 work Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the subject of today’s episode.
Gertrude Pridgett (Ma Rainey’s birth name) was dubbed the “Mother of the Blues” for her outrageous stage presence and ability to hold audiences in her trance. The Blues being one of America’s native art forms, the combination of the gospel with jazz music enticed the world with the earliest recordings featuring African American culture and is revered to this day. Rainey learned the ropes of show business through her husband “Pa Rainey” and was a mentor to a young Bessie Smith.
Wilson’s 1984 play is a fictional account of Rainey attending a recording of her work at a Chicago studio in 1927. By this time in her career, her known toughness and business acumen were legendary, and when she takes center stage in the story–it’s hard to take your eyes off her. The studio musicians (Levee, Toledo, Cutler, and Slow Drag) watch her handle recording executives getting rich from her talent. The older group members want to warn young Levee of the harsh realities of the early 20th-century world.
The 2021 film is the final film for Chadwick Boseman, who plays Levee Green, and the Netflix production is dedicated to his memory. Viola Davis plays the role of Ma Rainey with a fierceness that emanates throughout the movie.
Between the original play and the adaptation, which did we prefer?
In this ep the Margos discuss:
- August Wilson’s career
- The significance of “The Pittsburgh Cycle.”
- Denzel Washington taking the work of August Wilson to HBO
- The cast: Viola Davis (Ma Rainey,) Maxayn Lewis (Ma Rainey singing voice,) Chadwick Boseman (Levee Green,) Glynn Turman (Toledo,) Colman Domingo (Cutler,) Michael Potts (Slow Drag,) Johnny Coyne (Mel Sturdyvant,) Taylour Paige (Dussie Mae,) Jeremy Shamos (Irvin,) and Dusan Brown as Sylvester.
- Ma needs her Coke
- Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom trailer
- Ma Rainey sings Black Bottom
- Levee confronts the band
- “He stepped on my shoe!”
- Music by Ma Rainey Moonshine Blues (1923)
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