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MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM

"Egotistical Ambition Is Destructive"

Quality:
Content: -3 Excessive content and/or worldview problems.
NoneLightModerateHeavy
Language
Violence
Sex
Nudity

What You Need To Know:

Set in 1927, Netflix’s MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM focuses on the famous blues singer, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, as she records her newest album in Chicago. Her hotheaded trumpet player, 32-year-old Levee, has ambitions beyond the four walls of the recording studio. He wants to make his own way in the music world. He’s convinced his way is the only way to achieve his goals. However, Levee’s bandmates see him as an egotistical rookie with plenty to learn before he goes off on his own. Will Levee’s bad attitude hurt his ambitions?

MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM is well produced. It’s based on the renowned play by acclaimed black playwright August Wilson. Chadwick Boseman gives a stellar performance as Levee. So does Viola Davis, who plays Ma Rainey. However, like many plays, the movie is too talky. Also, the ending is unsatisfying and somewhat depressing. MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM has a mixed pagan worldview with humanist, moral and Christian elements. It also contains excessive foul language and some lewd content and violence. Media-wise viewers will find this combination and the unsatisfying ending sad and unacceptable.

Content:

(PaPa, HH, CC, B, Ho, LLL,VV, S, N, A, M)

Dominant Worldview and Other Worldview Content/Elements:
Strong eclectic, mixed pagan worldview about an influential female blues singer in 1927 where a humanist young man feels the Christian God has deserted him and other black men and he thinks he’s the only one capable of doing things a manner that achieves success, mixed with some Christian, moral elements such as an older gentleman rebukes a young man who blasphemes the name of God, there’s mention of a preacher who carried a bible and wore a cross around his neck, the movie promotes older people trying to teach younger people how to get on in the world, and the title character takes very good care of her nephew who has a stutter, plus there’s a homoerotic moment where Ma Rainey caresses a woman and kisses her on the check while singing (apparently, the real Ma Rainey was bisexual and sometimes referred to those proclivities in her songs)

Foul Language:
At least 81 obscenities (including a few “f” words), two strong profanities, five light profanities, 42 uses of the “n” word in slang dialogue as black men refer to one another, four instances of a slang term used to describe white people by a black man, and two instances of slang used to describe a woman’s private parts

Violence:
Strong and light violence includes mention of an 8-year-old getting sliced across the chest, and man stabs another man out of rage and winds up killing him with some blood depicted

Sex:
Man makes a sexual innuendo, implied fornication between two characters who are seen on top of one another and

Nudity:
Upper male nudity in one scene, and a busty woman shows some female cleavage

Alcohol Use:
Men drink bourbon out of a flask but there’s no drunkenness

Smoking and/or Drug Use and Abuse:
Smoking, but no drug references; and,

Miscellaneous Immorality:
Racial prejudice, name-calling, some egotistical characters, and an irate character calls God some foul names, but it’s clear it’s not accepted by the rest of the characters who hear him.

More Detail:

MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM zooms in on the famous blues singer, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey as she records an album with a headstrong trumpet player named Levee. MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM is very well produced and acted, but it has an unsatisfying ending and an eclectic, mixed pagan worldview with humanist, moral and Christian elements, excessive and often gratuitous foul language, and some lewd content and violence.

The movie takes place in Chicago, Illinois. The famous blues singer, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, was one of the first blues singers to record. As such, she’s considered “the Mother of the Blues.” The movie opens in 1927 in Chicago, four years into her contract with Paramount Records, where Ma Rainey gears up to record her next studio album with the hit song, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Black Bottom is a double entendre that also refers to the Black Bottom dance, a popular dance at the time.

On their way to the recording studio, Ma Rainey, her nephew and another vocalist get into a fender bender, which puts them behind schedule. The cop who reports to the scene is condescending, but Ma Rainey doesn’t have time to be wasted. She makes her stance known that it wasn’t her driver’s fault. Still, the cop gets paid off by Rainey’s manager, who’s anxious to record and get the ball rolling.

Meanwhile, Ma Rainey’s band rehearses for the recording session. One of the band members is a 32-year-old man named Levee. Levee is the obvious hothead of the seasoned performers. He constantly chatters about his talents and dreams for making it big one day with his own band. However, it’s no secret in the band that Levee is always the one causing a raucous, and Ma Rainey seems to know that too.

Levee’s mouth gets him into trouble with Ma Rainey when he says he doesn’t think her nephew is capable of recording the intro to the song “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” because of his stutter. Later, Levee and Ma Rainey’s background singer fornicate while they should be waiting for Ma Rainey to get what she needs before the next round of recording. To top it off, Levee thinks his trumpet arrangement is better than the original score by Ma Rainey that she wants to record.

Eventually that day, Levee’s tactless antics get him fired from the band. He says it doesn’t matter to him, but that obviously isn’t true. In fact, his anger about getting fired becomes a catalyst for violence and tragedy.

MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM is very well produced. It’s based on the acclaimed 1984, Tony winning August Wilson play with the same title. The late Chadwick Boseman gives a stellar performance as Levee. So does the leading lady, Viola Davis, who plays Ma Rainey. Costume Designer Ann Roth also knocks the period costumes out of the park. That said, the movie is very dialogue heavy, not unlike Denzel Washington’s movie FENCES, which is based on the work of one of Wilson’s most popular plays. As a result, viewers need to really pay attention to grasp all the on-screen action, but that’s exactly what makes the movie unique. Even so, however, the ending is unsatisfying and somewhat depressing.

MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM has an eclectic, mixed worldview, with humanist, moral and Christian elements. The humanist elements center on Levee’s character, a young man who thinks he’s the only one capable of doing things in a manner that achieves success. Later, viewers learn that Levee’s jaded behavior is because he feels the Christian God has deserted him and other black men. Despite these humanist elements, the movie contains some positive Christian, moral content. For example, one character defends God, there’s a clear recognition of good and evil, and Ma Rainey takes good care of her nephew who has a stutter. In addition, the movie recognizes that older people have to teach younger people how to get on in the world. It also condemns racism, including the racism of the white record producers who have Ma Rainey under contract.

However, there’s one slightly homoerotic moment where Ma Rainey caresses a woman and kisses her on the check while singing (apparently, the real Ma Rainey was bisexual and occasionally referred to those proclivities in her songs). Sadly, MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM also contains excessive foul language and some lewd content and violence. Media-wise viewers will find the movie’s foul language and depressing ending unacceptable.

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