Adapted from two-time Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson’s play, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” celebrates the transformative power of the blues and the artists who refuse to let society’s prejudices dictate their worth. 

The film is about the trailblazing performer, the legendary “Mother of the Blues,” Ma Rainey (Academy Award winner Viola Davis) as she engages in a battle of wills with her white management and producer, over control of her music during a recording session in 1920s Chicago. It is also about the war between Ma’s ambitious horn player Levee (the late Chadwick Boseman) and the future he envisions versus the past he cannot escape.

Directed by George C. Wolfe and adapted for the screen by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, the film is produced by Fences Oscar® nominees Denzel Washington and Todd Black. Colman Domingo, Glynn Turman, Michael Potts, Taylour Paige, and Dusan Brown co-star alongside Grammy® winner Branford Marsalis’ score.

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is set to debut on Netflix on Dec. 18. 

In a partnership with Netflix, the streaming service has a deal to turn Wilson’s plays into films. Originally set for HBO, Netflix continues to use its streaming service as a gateway to land major names and projects versus going to theaters.

Tensions and temperatures rise over the course of an afternoon recording session in 1920s Chicago as a band of musicians awaits trailblazing performer, the legendary “Mother of the Blues,” Ma Rainey (Davis). 

Late to the session, the fearless, fiery Ma engages in a battle of wills over control of her music. As the band waits in the studio’s claustrophobic rehearsal room, Levee — who has an eye for Ma’s girlfriend and is determined to stake his own claim on the music industry — spurs his fellow musicians into an eruption of stories revealing truths that will forever change the course of their lives. 

The Atlanta Voice chatted with cast members Domingo, Turman, and Potts in a virtual junket ahead of the film’s promotional run. The trio, with storied careers in theater and the big screen, shared insights on the power of reinvention in maintaining a long-term presence in the entertainment industry.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of some amazing pieces of work — ‘Ma Rainey’ being one of them,” said Turman, who starred as Colonel Taylor in the 90s sitcom, “A Different World” and as Preach in coming of age flick “Cooley High.” “But over the years I’ve found that depending on whatever age my fans are, that will inform me of which of my projects they have seen.”

He added, “I have been able to play characters that have resonated with people in different tiers of my career and be identified through those respective characters.”

Potts shared similar sentiments, highlighting that it is his point to be able to transform into the characters he is portraying.

“I’m a character actor and I believe in transformation,” he said. “The trick to me is that you don’t know who I am. I feel successful if you know the character but don’t know who I am. So I don’t feel any need to reinvent Michael Potts because I think that every character that I take on is a new invention.”

Viola Davis, Colman Domingo, Michael Potts, Glynn Turman, and Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020). (Photo: David Lee / Netflix)

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