Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was always going to be an award season contender, being a lavish adaptation of an August Wilson play produced by Denzel Washington and starring Viola Davis, but as it is now, sadly, Chadwick Boseman’s final performance, the film carries extra weight and expectations. The first trailer dropped yesterday, and it shows Davis as blues singer Ma Rainey, one of the first to record blues records, and Boseman as her fiery trumpet player, Levee. Wilson’s play deals with early clashes between Black musicians and white record producers in the burgeoning record industry of the 1920s, though the trailer more heavily emphasizes the tension between Ma, Levee, and the rest of the band as they prepare to record an album.
Of course, a lot of focus will be on Boseman’s performance, given it is the last first time we’ll see him create a character. But Ma Rainey is also a Best Actress contender for Davis, who looks amazing in this trailer. There’s been some talk recently of whether or not to cancel the Oscars, and I don’t think we should because, despite COVID, 2020 is shaping up to be a competitive year, especially for women in film. The pandemic might be cancelling premieres and trumping headlines, but women have done incredible work this year and they deserve to be recognized for it. Imagine, the 2020 Best Actress race could feature Viola Davis and Jennifer Hudson both playing iconic Black singers (Hudson stars in Respect, the Aretha Franklin biopic). We deserve that! After all the sh-t we’ve been through this year!
I understand the concerns about the inherent lack of glamour in a Zoom Oscars, and a lack of glamour potentially harming the brand of Hollywood’s most glamorous night, but I think a weird, potentially virtual, delayed Oscars ceremony next spring is also a chance to get really creative and do wild and new things with the telecast. Depending on the how the nominations go, it could be a year to turn the whole thing into a celebration of women in film, and not as a creepy “Sorry about all the assault” apologia like the 2018 Oscars, but a genuine, exciting acknowledgment of the phenomenal work women are doing across the board. The Academy just needs to embrace the strangeness of our COVID year and lean into celebrating 2020 as the year women kept film afloat.