• James Kunovski

Oscar Nomination Predictions: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the tremendously ruminative and volatile adaptation of the acclaimed August Wilson play does not feel like a traditional Oscar-pleaser, but through its dimension, it unveils itself as a part of what Oscar voters grab.

Wilson’s play, directed by stage veteran George C. Wolfe, centres around an eruptive recording session in 1920s Chicago attended by the “Mother of the Blues,” Ma Rainey herself, and her band. Like most plays, tempers boil and inhibitions are revealed. Even if the film is not the crowd-pleasing, pat-on-the-back type of cinema that the Academy may like, it will find attention by way of its show-stopping acting, period atmosphere and dark yet essential message.

Though it is undeniably word-heavy and consequently, a little stagey, its energy and showcase performances soar and from that momentum precisely reveals the pain of its souls, the price of religion and the exploitation of black musicians in a roar that reaches the rafters. The Academy responded promisingly to Fences, the first film adaptation of August Wilson’s work so will Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom similarly hold itself well in the face of competition.


Surely it’s clear that Netflix is having a field day at next year’s Oscars and even though they will surely have their cake, it’s unsure if it will be able to eat it too. Regardless of the winning possibilities, nominations will flood their way, especially for Ma Rainey which is guaranteed a spot in the most desired category.

BEST ACTOR (Chadwick Boseman as Levee Green) [Lock]

After a while of watching these type of performances you tend to numb in the face of greatness. In other words, you take for granted how damn good so many actors are. Watch something like Chadwick Boseman’s foray as Levee, the vivacious yet desperate trumpeter whose stature is crumbling at the seams, and you can only sit back and say, “this is an Oscar-worthy turn.” Dealt a compelling character arc and several standout scenes of varying potency, Boseman spins a triumphant spectacle. Though the sadness around a potential posthumous nomination, and likely win still echoes, the Academy’s decision would resonate as a deserved and necessary tribute to a career that was well on its way to rocketing, and without any doubt, a vivid and immortalised performance.

Boseman (L) Davis (C) & Company.

BEST ACTRESS (Viola Davis as Ma Rainey) [Lock]

Writer Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s decision to bring Ma Rainey’s ineffaceable entrance forward by around an act serves Davis’ remarkable performance well. From the beginning she is planted as an essential persona and she’s not budging. Rambunctious, headstrong, equally lethargic and fiery, Viola Davis is chameleonic as the “Mother of the Blues”. August Wilson’s writing has done wonders for Davis, who has already won an Oscar and Tony from Fences. That special connection between writer and performer is bound to continue with Ma Rainey.


August Wilson’s posthumous screenplay for Fences received seventeen major-body award nominations, including the coveted Oscar, and Ruben Santiago-Hudson, a friend and labelled “expert” of Wilson’s work is likely to follow in his footsteps. By trimming the material but not compromising its message, Santiago-Hudson curates a fine accolade to Wilson’s legacy.


Granted there are not too many outfits, courtesy of legendary designer Ann Roth, but the few pieces string together an ensemble that reflects socioeconomics through slight period detail, which in turn, is bolstered by an earthy palette. Similar to the situation in Mank, will voters be attracted to a mainly male-heavy (i.e., suits) wardrobe?

At this time, Davis and Boseman have strong holds on their categories with most award prognosticators ranking them high, if not first, amongst the competition. Regardless of the personal triumphs, success at the Oscars could bode well for the lucrative deal between producer Denzel Washington and Netflix which sets out to adapt Wilson’s remaining “Century Cycle” plays. First, there was Fences, then there was Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. What’s to follow in this exciting lineage of fine work that has already found itself an awards magnet?