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Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is a 2020 American horror film directed by George C. Wolfe and loosely based on the novel of the same title by August Wilson. Starring as the protagonist, Rainey (Simpson) is an escaped slave who stumbles upon a dilapidated plantation and quickly realizes that he has become the center of attention and danger in this strange land. The cast also includes Jamie Fox, Dan Butler, River Phoenix, and Elisha Cook. The film is set to be released in May of next year.
During the early portions of the film, we witness the origins of the plot. We are introduced to the titular Black Bottom wherein Rainey (Fox) is the only remaining slave on board the Underground Railroad. He lives with a violent slave master (Paterson), who wants to sell him to another owner for his own use. The irony is that during this period of time, the slave trade is thriving throughout the country. In addition, we learn that the owner of the Underground Railroad is none other than King Jim who lives in Chicago. Thus, we have an African American slave man running from the evils of America and ending up on this sweet little town of Chicagoland.
The story is told through the point of view of Rainey as he runs away from the plantation. His quest takes him all across the South and into Texas, Louisiana, Maryland, and beyond. Eventually, he ends up in the fictional town of Black Bottom, which is based in Chicago. Here, he reunites with a friend who also happens to be the owner of a recording studio. Together, the two escape from Chicago and look for help throughout their run-in with the law and discover that they must run for their lives in the midst of a plague.
The innovative musician finally gets to perform his song at the final performance of his famous series of "collaborations with other artists". In the process, he discovers that the black bottom was not as empty and sad as it seems. It is now home to many musical talents that help this hopeful narrative progress. This is also the start of what would turn out to be one of the most successful albums ever made by an African American male blues singer/songwriter - Paul Winter.
The movie tells the story through the eyes of Rainey as he tries to escape the worst conditions of his life. He finally learns that he has to sing to survive. This poignant lesson is one that we can hopefully take from his remarkable career. It is possible that with the final film of Ma Rainey, he finally will get to enjoy his life in Chicago and be able to look at his career in a positive light.
This is just one of the many interesting stories that we can follow in the next ten years as African American artists continue to battle for justice and equality in today's society. We can learn a lot from the lives of these pioneering musicians who were forced out of their home, given limited educations, and then subjected to the worst forms of discrimination and injustice. It is easy to forget how much difference people have changed since the yearbooks were published. We have to keep that in mind when appreciating the work of these men and women today. If you want to celebrate the tremendous achievements of our African American musical superstars of the past and present, make sure you pay attention to the upcoming Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and All I Really Need Is That.