MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
BEST Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
BEST Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
BEST Achievement in Production Design
BEST Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
BEST Achievement in Costume Design
During a recording session in a Chicago studio in 1927, tensions rise between famed singer Ma Rainey, ambitious horn player Levee and Ma Rainey’s white manager, both of whom are determined to control the fiery “Mother of the Blues” to their own advantage.
Playing trumpet in Ma Rainey’s band, Levee Green has ambitions to make it on his own and start a band of his own. Growing up black in the early 1900s, he’s got a past filled with violence and anger. He’s smooth with the ladies, hot-tempered with the men, and loves riffing on his horn, much to the chagrin of Ma Rainey herself.
There have been several sweeps this awards season, and Chadwick Boseman has been one of them. A stage play turned into a film usually allows screen actors to have a character and dialogue to sink in their teeth. The monologues of Chadwick Boseman’s character Levee are some of the most memorable of the entire film. Boseman can be fast-talking and confident one moment, then angry and ranting about his past the next. He can be defending himself against a room full of older men and then smooth-talking a beautiful woman the next.
Many will see this posthumous win for Chadwick as a final farewell. But looking across the other performances, this one comes deservedly so. His most prominent competitors are likely Riz Ahmed for “Sound of Metal” and Anthony Hopkins for “The Father,” both of which are men dealing with illnesses. But Boseman has so much to work with here. It’s almost an embarrassment of riches. His wife has been accepting his award wins all season, and I believe we’re in for yet another one of her heartfelt acceptance speeches.
|— 1st time Nominee —|
The “Mother of the Blues,” Ma Rainey is an American blues singer and recording artist. In Chicago, taking a break from her Southern tour, she records a record for her white manager. Depicted as a diva lashing out, Ma’s voice and ruminations expose a woman aware of her worth in the world.
Best Actress in a Leading Role has become the tightest race of the whole Oscars this year. As of writing this, Viola Davis has just won the Screen Actors Guild award for Best Female Lead. Andra Day was the winner of the Golden Globe Awards. And Carey Mulligan won the Critics’ Choice Awards. So who is the Academy going to choose?
I see it coming down to Davis and Mulligan. Both give outstanding performances in well-made movies. However, there are a few things that might lean in Mulligan’s favor. “Promising Young Woman” has a Best Picture nomination, which means the Academy is behind her film. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” isn’t a Best Picture nominee. Davis has also won recently. Often when actresses have won before, they seem likely to win again so soon. The immediacy to award them because they’re due is not gone. Carey Mulligan, on the other hand, has been nominated once before yet has never won. She’s put out consistently solid work. They may finally reward her for it.
|2008 (81st)||Best Actress in a Supporting Role||“Doubt”||NOMINATED|
|2011 (84th)||Best Actress in a Leading Role||“The Help”||NOMINATED|
|2016 (89th)||Best Actress in a Supporting Role||“Fences”||WON|
Flapper dresses and suits are the costumes that fill “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” A little underwhelming when compared to the other nominees. Yet Ann Roth is the front-runner. The costumes of “Emma,” “Mank,” and “Mulan” all stand out a bit more in my eyes, but when the ground is swelling toward a particular nominee, it’s hard not to listen.
|1984 (57th)||Best Costume Design||“Places in the Heart”||NOMINATED|
|1996 (69th)||Best Costume Design||“The English Patient”||WON|
|1999 (72nd)||Best Costume Design||“The Talented Mr. Ripley”||NOMINATED|
|2002 (75th)||Best Costume Design||“The Hours”||NOMINATED|
Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson
The hair and makeup at work in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” eludes me. Yet here it is as the front-runner. No offense, but besides Ma Rainey’s slathered-on makeup, the rest is pretty standard period makeup. Meanwhile, “Hillbilly Elegy” transforms Glenn Close into a different person, “Emma” is packed to the brim with hair and makeup, and “Mank” pulls off a black-and-white period piece flawlessly. Perhaps the Academy will see it that way as well, and something will upset.
Sergio Lopez-Rivera | Mia Neal | Jamika Wilson
|— 1st time Nominee —|
Production Design: Mark Ricker
Set Decoration: Karen O’Hara and Diana Stoughton
“Mank” has been the darling of the Production Design category all season, so it will be difficult to unseat it. However, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” has that stage play feel with the intricate set designs that we spend more time in than usual. Moments like Levee bursting through the basement door to find himself more or less in a cage or the black men walking into the store of all white men are made better by the set design.
Mark Ricker | Diana Stoughton
|— 1st time Nominee —|
|1986 (59th)||Best Art Direction||“The Color of Money”||NOMINATED|
|2010 (83rd)||Best Art Direction||“Alice in Wonderland”||WON|
November 25, 2020
George C. Wolfe
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
by August Wilson
(for language, some sexual content and brief violence)
Tobias A. Schliessler
93RD ACADEMY AWARDS | OSCARS CHALLENGE
APRIL 5, 2021