Get ready for August Wilson’s ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’

The historic work of August Wilson and his renowned written works have shown the perception of black life on stage for years. The stories that Wilson has told in storytelling form through the characters and the challenges they faced show an accurate reality for his characters.

What rings to be true about those stories then, seems to be very much present today – now, those same stories will get their own adaptation on both the big and small screen thanks to Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington. 

Washington aggregated a series of ten playwrights of Wilson’s work over the years and is contracted to produce all ten playwrights into films over the course of a decade known as the Pittsburgh Cycle. Originally announced in 2015, Washington concluded that the production of the films would be released once a year over the next 10 years. 

The first installment of the series of 10 was released in 2016. Fences is a film about “a working-class African-American father tries to raise his family in the 1950s while coming to terms with the events of his life.” Washington not only produced the film but also played the movie’s ;read character Troy Maxson. 

The second installment of the series, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is set to make its Netflix debut in early December of this year. Fences won a series of awards for both Washington and the A-list cast.

In Fences, Washington and Davis portrayed the two main characters who later went on to win countless awards. Davis earned an Oscar as best actress in a supporting role. Washington was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture. 

The second installment of the series of films is anticipated to do just as well with higher regard due to the shocking passing of Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman earlier this year. Boseman lost a quiet-kept battle with cancer. The upcoming adaptation of Wilson’s stage play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was always going to be one of Netflix’s big Oscar contenders for the 2020-21 awards season, but the “passing of Boseman has elevated the project further, as it’s now the late actor’s final movie,” according to IndieWire Online.

Boseman will be one of the few actors who is expected to be nominated for an Academy Award posthumously. 

The film as described by Netflix follows Ma Rainey, a famous Jazz singer and Levee, a trumpeter as “tensions rise when the trailblazing Mother of the Blues and her band gather at a Chicago recording studio in 1927. The Netflix release is the only one of the 10 works by Wilson which does not take place in Pittsburgh. The backdrop for this tale takes place in Chicago.

Davis spoke about the continued relevance of Wilson’s work – and how a stage play set 100 years ago (and written in the early 1980s) still speaks directly to today.

“It’s a story of being Black in America, and having a dream,” she explains. “It’s about having vision and talent, and all the obstacles that are put in your way to keep you from attaining your dream, to keep you from that leveled playing ground. We could have done this play 100 years ago, and it would still have been relevant,” Davis tells Empire online

The original play by Wilson made its original debut in 1984 on Broadway, winning a three-peat of awards that same year, one of which was a Tony Award for best play and a Pulitzer Prize. The play was brought back for its revival on Broadway in 2003. Now Netflix Streaming Services give Wilson’s work another adaptation on Dec. 18.

The film takes place in 1927 in Chicago and is directed by George C. Wolfe, alongside Washington, who serves as the film’s producer.

According to the Seattle Times, Washington and his collection of Wilsons’ work started back in 2003 when Washington got word of Wilsons’ possible interest in casting the star in Gem of the Ocean. The article went on to share Washingtons’  remembrance of the occurrence and their conversation on a rainy porch. Washington remembers Wilson saying that he would “write what the characters tell him.” 

When you look at the four-year gap between Fences, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – we can be sure to see a delay in the timely release of the next film. Despite the lack of news surrounding the approximate release dates of each film or the lack of order in which each film will be released, Washington is enthusiastic to release the “Century Cycle.”

“I’m really excited about that — that [the estate] would put that in my hands and trust me,” said Washington in a 2015 Q&A. 

Be sure to catch the highly anticipated film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Dec. 18 on Netflix for what Davis calls “‘a really fitting and beautiful curtain call’ for Boseman” according to Empire.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *