Starring: Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, Michael Potts, Taylour Paige, Dusan Brown, Jonny Coyne, Jeremy Shamos
OUR RATING: ★★★★☆
Netflix’s bio-drama directed by George C. Wolfe based on the play of the same name by August Wilson. The story is set in Chicago, 1927, during a recording session, over the course of an afternoon, as tensions rise between Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), the legendary “Mother of the Blues”, her ambitious horn player, Levee (Chadwick Boseman), and the white management determined to control her.
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Our Favorite Quotes:'The more music you have in the world, the fuller it is.' - Ma Rainey (Ma Rainey's Black Bottom) Click To Tweet 'The blues help you get out of bed in the morning. You get up knowing you ain't alone. There's something else in the world. Something's been added by that song. This be an empty world without the blues.' - Ma Rainey Click To Tweet 'Now death. Death got some style. Death will kick your a** and make you wish you never been born. That's how bad death is. But you can rule over life. Life ain't nothing.' - Levee (Ma Rainey's Black Bottom) Click To Tweet
Sturdyvant: I’m not putting up with any Royal Highness, Queen of the Blues bulls**t.
Irvin: Mother of the Blues, Mel. Mother of the Blues.
Toledo: [as Levee holds up his new shoes] How much you pay for something like that, Levee?
Levee: Eleven dollars. Four dollars of it belong to Cutler.
Slow Drag: Ooh! Levee say if it wasn’t for Cutler, he wouldn’t have no new shoes.
Cutler: I ain’t thinking about Levee or his shoes.
Levee: Damn! They done changed things around. Don’t never leave well enough alone.
Toledo: Yeah, everything changing all the time. Even the air you breathing change. Yeah, you got monoxide, hydrogen, changing all the time. Skin changing. Different molecules. Everything.
Levee: What is you talking about? I’m talking about the room. I ain’t talking about no skin and air. I’m talking about something I can see. I ain’t talking about no molecules.
Toledo: I know what you talking about. You don’t know what I’m talking about.
Levee: That door. You see that door? That’s what I’m talking about. The door wasn’t there before.
Cutler: Levee, you wouldn’t know your right from your left. And damn if that door wasn’t there. Now, if you’re talking about they done switched rooms, you right. But don’t go telling me that door wasn’t there.
Levee: I’m just saying that things change.
Toledo: What the hell do you think I was saying? Things change. The air and everything. Now you going to say you was saying it.
Toledo: You going to fit two propositions on the same track, run them into each other, and because they crash, you going to say it’s the same train?
Levee: Now this n**** talking about trains. We done went from the air, to the skin, to the door, and now trains. Toledo, I’d just like to be inside your head for five minutes just to see how you think. You done got more s**t piled up and mixed up in there than the devil got sinners. You been reading too many goddamn books.
Toledo: What you care about how much I read? I’m going to ignore you because you’re ignorant.
Levee: They need one of them jug bands for this.
Slow Drag: Don’t make no difference to me, long as we get paid.
Levee: That ain’t what I’m talking about. I’m talking about art.
Slow Drag: What’s drawing got to do with it?
Cutler: If you want to be one of them, what you call virtuosos, or something, you’re in the wrong place. You ain’t no King Oliver, or Buddy Bolden. You’re just an old trumpet player come a dime a dozen. Talking about art.
Levee: What is you? I don’t see your name in lights.
Cutler: I just play the piece. Whatever they want. I don’t criticize other people’s music.
Levee: I ain’t like you, Cutler. I got talent.
Cutler: Oh, s**t.
Levee: Me and this horn, we’s tight. If my daddy had a knowed I was going to turn out like this, he would have named me Gabriel.
Levee: I’m going to get me a band and make me some records. I done give Mr. Sturdyvant some of my songs I wrote, and he say he going to let me record them when I get my band together. I just got to finish the last part of this song. I knows how to play real music, not this old jug band s**t. I got style.
Toledo: Oh, everybody got style. Style ain’t nothing but keeping the same idea from beginning to end. Everybody got it.
Levee: Everybody can’t play like I do. Everybody can’t have their own band.
Cutler: Well, until you get your own band where you can play what you want, just play the piece and stop complaining. I told you when you came on here, this ain’t none of them hot bands. This is an accompaniment band. You play Ma’s music when you’re here.
Cutler: You trying to tell me what we is and ain’t going to play, and that ain’t none of your business. Your business is to play what I say.
Levee: Oh. I see now. You done got jealous because Mr. Irvin using my version.
Cutler: What I got to be jealous of you about? The day I get jealous of you, I may as well lay down and die.
Levee: [after Irvin’s told them to play Levee’s version of “Black Bottom”] See, I told you! It don’t mean nothing when I say it. You got to wait for Mr. Irvin to say it. Well, I told you the way it is.
Cutler: Levee, the sooner you understand it ain’t what you say, or what Mr. Irvin say, it’s what Ma say that count.
Levee: Look, I don’t care what you play, alright? It don’t matter to me.
Slow Drag: Don’t nobody say when it comes to Ma. She going to do what she want to do.
Levee: Mr. Irvin the one putting out the record.
Slow Drag: He going to put out what she want him to put out.
Cutler: Levee confused about who the boss is. He don’t know Ma’s the boss.
Cutler: Alright, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Levee’s version.
Toledo: How that first part go again there, Lev?
Levee: It go like this.
[plays his trumpet to demonstrate]
Levee: That’s to get the people’s attention. That’s when you and Slow Drag come in with the rhythm part. Me and Cutler play on the breaks.
Cutler: The man just asked how the part go. He ain’t ask for all that.
Cutler: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” A-one, a-two, a-you know what to do.
Levee: [as they start playing] Hey, hey, hey. Y’all got to keep up now. You playing in the wrong time.
Cutler: Will you let us play this song? We been playing before you was born. Trying to tell us how to play.
Levee: Slow Drag, watch them big-a** shoes you got.
Slow Drag: Ain’t nobody done nothing to you.
Levee: You done stepped on my shoes!
Slow Drag: Then move them the hell out the way then! You was in my way. I wasn’t in your way.
Cutler: Any man who takes a whole week’s pay and puts it on some shoes, you understand what I mean, what you walk around with on the ground with, is a fool. And I don’t mind telling him.
Levee: What difference it make to you, Cutler?
Levee: A man got to have some shoes to dance like this. He can’t dance like this with them clodhoppers Toledo got.
Toledo: That’s the trouble with colored folks, always looking to have a good time. More n****s have got killed trying to have a good time than God got ways to count.
Toledo: What the hell having a good time mean? That’s what I want to know. Got to be more to life than just having a good time. If there ain’t, then this is a pi**-poor life we’re living if that’s all there is to be got out of it.
Slow Drag: Good times is what makes life worth living.
Toledo: I know how to have a good time as well as the next man. Yeah. I just said there’s got to be more to life than just having a good time. I said, the colored man ought to be doing more than just trying to have a good time all the time.
Levee: You’re talking all them highfalutin ideas about making a better world for the colored man. What is you doing to make it better? You playing the music, and looking for your next piece of pu**y, same as we is. What is you doing?
Toledo: It ain’t just me, fool. I said everybody. what you think, I’m going to solve the colored man’s problem all by myself? I said “we”. You understand that? We. That’s every living colored man in the world got to do his share, got to do his part. I ain’t talking about what I’m going to do, or you going to do, or Cutler, Slow Drag, anybody else. I’m talking about what all of us going to do together.
Cutler: Ain’t nobody studying you.
Levee: Alright, I ain’t nobody. Don’t pay me no mind. I ain’t nobody.
Toledo: Ain’t nobody but the devil.
Levee: There you go. That’s who I am. I’m the devil. I ain’t nothing but the devil.
Cutler: God going to strike you down with that blasphemy you talking.
Levee: Oh, s**t. God don’t mean nothing to me. Let him strike me. Here I am, standing right here. What you talking about he going to strike me? Here I am. Let him strike me. I ain’t scared of him.
Cutler: Alright. Alright. You going to be sorry. You going to fix yourself to have bad luck. Ain’t nothing going to work out for you.
Levee: What I care about bad luck? You talking simple. I ain’t had nothing but bad luck all my life. Couldn’t get no worse. What the hell I care about some bad luck? Hell, I eat it every day for breakfast. You dumber than I thought you was, talking about bad luck.
Cutler: Alright, n****. You’ll see. Can’t tell a fool nothing. You’ll see.
Sturdyvant: [referring to Ma] She’s late and already she’s started.
Irvin: I talked to her last night. I got everything straight, Mel. You just stay out of the way. Just let me handle it.
Sturdyvant: Yeah, you handled it last time, remember? She marches in like she owns the damn place, complains about the building being cold, trips over a mic wire, then threatens to sue me.
Irvin: That’s what people want now, Ma. They want something they can dance to. Levee’s arrangement gives the people what they want. It makes them excited, it makes them forget about their troubles.
Ma Rainey: I don’t care what you say, honey. Levee ain’t messing up my song. Now, if he got what the people want, let him take it somewhere else. I’m singing Ma Rainey’s song, I ain’t singing no Levee’s song. Now that’s all there is to it.
Irvin: Me and Sturdyvant. We decided…
Ma Rainey: You decided, huh? I’m just a bump on a log. I’m just going to go whichever way the river drift. Is that it? You and Sturdyvant decided?
Irvin: No. We just thought…
Ma Rainey: I ain’t got no good sense. I know nothing about music. I don’t know what a good song is, or what ain’t. You know more about my fans than I do.
Irvin: It’s not that, Ma. It’s more of what the people want.
Ma Rainey: What you all say don’t count with me, you understand? Ma listen to her heart. Ma listen to the voice inside her. That’s what count with Ma.
Ma Rainey: [to Irvin] Levee ain’t messing up my song. Now, if that don’t set right with you and Sturdyvant, I can carry my black bottom on back down South to my tour, because I don’t like it up here noways.
Irvin: Okay, Ma. Have it your way, but we’ll be ready to go in fifteen minutes.
Ma Rainey: We’ll be ready to go when Madam says so. And that’s the way it go around here.
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