Based on the eponymous play by August Wilson, ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ is a film that explores the many facets of the 1920s, including the racism that African-Americans faced. However, the plot does it so subtly and over the course of one afternoon. With some rather stellar performances by the likes of Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman, the film is one you must watch. It all starts when the legendary “Mother of the Blues,” Ma Rainey, is late for a recording session in a studio in Chicago. Her band, however, has arrived on time and is made to wait in a rehearsal room.
Eventually, conflicts and tensions become a dime a dozen, with the singer engaged in a battle of wills with her manager and the producer. The band members also partake in playful banter, which eventually takes a darker turn. and Chadwick Boseman, the film is one you must watch. The premise is definitely intriguing, and if you can’t get enough of such films, you should check out the other entries below. You can watch most of these movies like ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.
7. Ali (2001)
This sports drama chronicles the life of Cassius Clay Jr., whom we all know as Muhammad Ali. Will Smith plays the titular character, and a decade of the iconic boxer’s life (1964 to 1974) is interpreted in the plot. His controversial fight with Sonny Liston, his conversion to Islam, and his criticisms of the Vietnam War are just some of the topics that the film discusses. Much like ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,’ ‘Ali’ explores the political landscape of America and how it affected the black community. Furthermore, both these films give us an honest glimpse into the lives of the protagonists.
6. Marshall (2017)
The late Chadwick Boseman has left behind a rich and beautiful cinematic legacy, and ‘Marshall’ is a testament to his talent. The legal drama focuses on one of the first cases that Thurgood Marshall (the first African American Supreme Court Justice) had to argue in his career. Set in the 40s, the lawyer fights the good fight for those black people who are wrongfully suspected of a crime.
In this case, he must help Joseph Spell, a chauffeur who is falsely accused of raping his white employer, Eleanor Strubing. Marshall must combat racial prejudice and sensationalism to emerge victorious. In many ways, the lawyer reminds us of Ma Rainey, who does what is right for her people and not the white man.
5. Selena (1997)
Selena Quintanilla-Pérez was a beloved Tejano music star whose life was cut short when the President of her own fan club shot her. Nonetheless, her story is still an inspiring one. Over the years, her story has been replicated in many productions, but the one that stands out the most is ‘Selena,’ and it is not just because of Jennifer Lopez’s performance. In both movies, we meet strong women – Selena and Ma Rainey – who refuse to give into sexism, patriarchy, and racism. They are in male-dominated industries, and yet, they carve a niche for themselves.
4. The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)
Aaron Sorkin is a master of his craft, but if you don’t believe us, then we suggest you check out ’The Trial of the Chicago 7.’ It tells the story of the infamous trial of 1969, in which a group of men was charged with conspiracy (and more) in the wake of the countercultural protests that erupted in Chicago after the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
It also features an ensemble cast that includes Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sacha Baron Cohen, Daniel Flaherty, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeremy Strong, and Michael Keaton. In ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,’ we learn all about the plight of the black man and how racism affects their daily lives. ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ takes it one step further in that the characters fight for what they believe in, no matter the consequences.
3. Hidden Figures (2016)
The story revolves around three African American female mathematicians who work at NASA and prove to be exactly what the agency needs to move ahead in the space race. Taraji P. Henson plays Katherine Johnson, Octavia Spencer is seen as Dorothy Vaughan, and Janelle Monáe plays Mary Jackson. Since it is set in 1961, segregation and racism are common practices in the agency.
However, they prove their merit and even help bring about some positive changes, all while working on the Friendship 7 launch. These three ladies were pioneers in their own right, just like the black and allegedly bisexual Ma Rainey. So when you want an uplifting narrative that showcases the power of women, you can go check out ‘Hidden Figures.’
2. The Life Ahead (2020)
This Italian film (which is also referred to as ‘La vita davanti a sé’) is a poignant tale about the vigor of friendships and human connections. Madame Rosa (Sophia Loren) is a former prostitute and a Holocaust survivor who provides childcare services. When she is robbed by a 12-year old street kid, she is naturally reluctant to look after him.
However, Rosa gives in, and what follows is an emotional and beautiful story of healing, compassion, and love. ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ takes a look at the varying dynamics between the characters. It explores their histories, motivations, ambitions, and what makes them tick. In a similar but more subtle manner, ‘The Life Ahead’ dissects human relationships and is a cinematic tour de force.
1. BlacKkKlansman (2018)
John David Washington stars as Detective Ron Stallworth, the man who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the 70s in Colorado Springs. The police department runs quite a neat operation – Ron is the voice on the phone, whereas Detective Philip “Flip” Zimmerman (Adam Driver) is the one who attends the meetings. Teamwork makes the dream work, and the pair continues to battle racism and antisemitism as Stallworth makes a “connection” with the Grand Wizard, David Duke, over the phone.
Both ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ and ‘BlacKkKlansman’ are daring tales that expose the racism that has been prevalent in our society for so many years. They feature compelling protagonists and strong performances. Furthermore, we learn a lot about the institutionalized, historical, and cultural forms of racism and how these functioned in those specific decades.
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