Netflix’s film adaptation of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, produced by Denzel Washington, has cast Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman in leading roles. Based on August Wilson’s award-winning Broadway play, the feature adaption serves as a reunion for Washington and Davis, who previously worked together in the 2010 Broadway revival of Wilson’s Fences, as well as the 2016 Oscar-winning film of the same name.
Released on the stage in 1984, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom follows Ma Rainey, one of the earliest professional African-American blues singers who was dubbed “Queen of the Blues”. Taking place in a recording studio in Chicago circa 1927, the story dives into issues such as race, art, and religion when Ma Rainey’s band members Cutler, Toledo, Slow Drag, and Levee gather to record. Tensions begin to boil in the studio between Ma Rainey, her white producer, and the bandmates, as the underlying issue of white producers exploiting black recording artists comes to a head. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was revived in 2003, and featured the legendary Whoopi Goldberg in the leading role. The play was one of Wilson’s “Century Cycle” plays – ten plays set in a different decade to depict the black experience of each decade.
Washington’s passion project has been in the works for a while, and was originally set to go at HBO. Now, the Broadway play – and other Wilson works- have moved to Netflix, and added some of Hollywood’s finest to the cast. According to Deadline, Davis has been tapped to play the title character, and will be joined by Black Panther star Boseman, Glynn Turman (How To Get Away With Murder), Colman Domingo (Fear the Walking Dead), and Michael Potts (True Detective). Helmed by Broadway powerhouse director George C. Wolfe, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom begins filming next month in Pittsburgh.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is in the creative hands of producers Washington, Todd Black, Dany Wolfe, and Constanza Romero. Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Billions) penned the screenplay, and Oscar winner Ann Roth is onboard as the costume designer. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has a slate full of respected talent, with each powerhouse currently in the midst of numerous productions. Washington is set to star with Rami Malek in the upcoming crime thriller The Little Things. Fresh off the massive success of Avengers: Endgame, Boseman leads in 21 Bridges, and as the first African samurai warrior in Yasuke. Davis is reportedly returning for James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad, and continues to star as Annalise Keating in ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder.
Plays developed into feature films, such as August: Osage County, A Raisin in the Sun, Death of a Salesman, and Fences, have always garnered the attention of the Hollywood elite. A play calls for limited settings and lengthy dialogu,e and can only be pulled off on screen by talent who knows how to blend the two primary art forms. Washington has proven repeatedly that he has a knack at eliciting emotions – on and off the screen – and no doubt it didn’t take much enticing to bring Davis and Boseman on board. The masterly cast and seasoned crew are sure to make Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom a memorable hit for Netflix.