Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Netflix

Deep South

Netflix original film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom dropped last Wednesday December 18th, 2020.

🎶🙌🏾#MaRaineyFilm was Chadwick Boseman‘s last project.

rottentomatoes: 99%

metacritic: 87

imdb: 7.3

golden globes: 2 nominations

SAG awards: 3 nominations

Ma Rainey, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Netflix, Viola Davis
Ma Rainey, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Netflix, Viola Davis

Ma Rainey

Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey records a rhythm and blues album outside of 1927 Chicago, Illinois.

Ma Rainey, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Netflix, Viola Davis

“♪ My bell rang this morning ♪ Didn’t know which way to go ♪ My bell rang this morning ♪ Didn’t know which way to go ♪ I had the blues so bad ♪ I sat down on my floor ♪ Daddy, daddy ♪ Please come home to me ♪ Daddy, daddy ♪ Please come home to me ♪ I’m on my way ♪ Crazy as I can be ♪” — Ma Rainey

“♪ Oooh… ♪ Hmm… ♪ Hmm… ♪ Ah! ♪ Daddy, daddy ♪ Please come home to me ♪ Daddy, daddy ♪ Please come home to me ♪ I’m on my way ♪ Crazy as I can be ♪ Hey ♪ Hey, daddy ♪ Please come home to me ♪ Hey ♪ Oh, yeah! ♪ I’m on my way ♪ Crazy as I can be ♪” — Ma Rainey

“This is a brand new car. Ain’t had but a ding. What you gonna do? I got eyes, you got eyes. What are you gonna do? Tell this man who I am. Set him straight. Tell his man who he’s messing with. Assault and what for what? I can tell you what happened if you wanna know. That’s my nephew. That’s Sylvester. He was driving my car– I bought and paid for that car. He got ugly with me. I don’t know why you tell that lie. Well, if you gonna tell it, tell it right. If that don’t beat all to hell. I ain’t touched the man. I got things to do. He bumped into me and fell down. Flopping on the ground like a rag doll. I ain’t touch the man. Sturdyvant, get on away from me. That’s the last thing I need, to go through some of your shit. That’s my nephew Sylvester, and that there’s Dussi Mae. Everybody here? I ain’t for no sitting. Honey, call down there and see about my car. I need my car fixed today. Why y’all keep it so hot up in here? Y’all want to make records, better get a fan on. They off somewhere rehearsing. Come over here and let me see that dress. That dress look nice. I’m gonna take you tomorrow to get you some things before I take you down to Memphis. They got some clothes up here they ain’t got in Memphis. I want you to look nice for me, hmm? You gonna travel with the show, you gotta look nice. Oh, don’t you be messing around with no shoes that pinch your feet. Ma knows something about bad feet. Mmm. ♪ Oh, Lord ♪ These dogs of mine ♪ They sure do hurt me ♪ All the time ♪ Reason why? ♪ I don’t know ♪ Lord, I beg to be excused ♪. Okay. Go on, get my slippers out my bag over yonder. ♪ I can’t wear me no sharp-toed shoes ♪ I went for a walk ♪ I stopped to talk ♪ Oh, how my corns did bark ♪. We’ll get you whatever you need. Sylvester too. Sylvester, tuck your clothes in. Straighten them up and look nice. Like a gentleman. Take that hat off inside. Come over here and leave that piano. Baby, come over here and sit down. Come on. Soon as Mr. Irvin come back, I’m gonna have him take you down, introduce you to the band. Cutler gonna show you how your part go. When you get your money, send some of it home to your mama. Let her know you’re doing all right. Better have my car fixed right. I ain’t going for that. Brand-new car. They better fix it like new.” — Ma Rainey

“Irvin, what is that I hear? I know they ain’t rehearsing Levee’s ‘Black Bottom.’ I know I ain’t hearing that. I ain’t studying Levee nothing. I know what he done to that song. I don’t like to sing it that way. I’m doing it the old way. That’s why I brought my nephew in here to do the voice intro. I don’t care what you say, honey. Levee ain’t messing up my song. If he got what the people want, let him take it somewhere else. I’m singing Ma Rainey’s song, not Levee’s song. Now that’s all there is to it. Carry my nephew on down there. Introduce him to the band. I promised my sister I’d look out for him, so he’s gonna do the voice intro to the song my way. Who’s this ‘we?’ What you mean ‘we?’ Come talking this ‘we’ stuff. Who ‘we?’ You decided, huh? I’m just a bump on a log. I’m just gonna go whichever way the river drift. Is that it? You and Sturdyvant decided? I ain’t got no good sense. I know nothing about music or what a good song is or what ain’t. You know more about my fans than I do. Tell you something, Irvin, and you can go up there and you can tell Sturdyvant too. What you all say don’t count with me, you understand. Ma listen to her heart. Ma listen to the voice inside her. That’s what count with Ma. Carry my nephew on down there. Tell Cutler he’ll do the voice intro to the ‘Black Bottom’ song. Levee ain’t messing up my song. If that don’t set right with you and Sturdyvant, I can carry my black bottom on back down South to my tour, ’cause I don’t like it up here noways. Damn what you thought! What you look like trying to tell me how to sing my song. That Levee and Sturdyvant shit, I ain’t going for it. Sylvester, go introduce yourself. I’m through playing with Irvin. Come on. I’ll carry you down there myself. No. Come on, Sylvester. We’ll be ready to go when Madam says so. That’s the way it go around here.” — Ma Rainey

“Cutler, this here my nephew Sylvester. He’ll do the voice intro on ‘Black Bottom’ using the old version. I ain’t studying you or Mr. Irvin. Cutler, get ho, straightened out on how to do his part. I ain’t thinking about Levee. These folks done messed with the wrong person this day. Cutler gonna teach you how to do your part. Go ahead and get it straight. Don’t worry about what nobody else say.” — Ma Rainey

Cutler, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Netflix, Colman Domingo


“Heh. You should’ve heard Levee at the club last night, Toledo. Trying to talk to that gal Ma had with her. Fine, Mr, Irvin. I don’t know. She told us to be here at 1:00. That’s all I know. Levee’s supposed to be here same as we is. I reckon he’ll be here in a minute. Right.”

“What we got there, Toledo? Oh. Them ain’t the songs Ma told me. ‘Moonshine Blues.’ That’s one of them songs Bessie Smith sang, I believes. Levee know what time he’s supposed to be here? I ain’t thinking about no four dollars. He’s supposed to be here at 1:00. *****, I ain’t studying you. I ain’t thinking about Levee or his shoes. Let’s get ready to rehearse. You wouldn’t know your right from left. And damn if that door wasn’t there. If you talking about they done switched rooms, you right. But don’t go telling me that door wasn’t there. All right. It’s Slow Drag, all right. Just play the piece, *****. If you want to be one of them, uh, what you call virtuosos or something, you’re in the wrong place. You ain’t no King Oliver or Buddy Bolden. You’re just an old trumpet player come a dime a dozen. Talking about art. Oh, shit. Oh!”

“Until you get your own band where you can play what you want, play the piece and stop complaining. I told you when you came on here, this ain’t none of them hot bands. This is an accompaniment band. You play Ma’s music when you’re here. Levee, I don’t want no shit. You rehearse like everybody else. You in the band just like everybody else. Mr. Sturdyvant gonna have to wait. It’s the band’s time. ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.’ One, two, you know what to do. Let me worry about what’s on the list. What sense it make to rehearse the wrong version? You trying to tell me what we is and ain’t gonna play, and that ain’t none of your business. Your business is to play what I say. What I got to be jealous of you about? The day I get jealous of you, I may as well lay down and die. We ain’t talking about the paper. We talking about you understanding where you fit in here. You play what I say.”

“Uh… can’t say, Mr. Irvin. She’ll be along directly, I reckon. I’m talking about this ‘Black Bottom.’ Yes, sir, I know it’s on the list. But I just want to know which version. We got two versions of that song. Okay, got that straight. Now about this ‘Moonshine Blues.’ The sooner you understand it ain’t what you say, or what Mr. Irvin say, it’s what Ma say that count. Thank you. All right, let’s, uh, play this ‘Hear Me Talking to You’ till we figure out wat’s going on with this ‘Black Bottom.’ One, two, you know what to do. Levee confused about who the boss is. He don’t know Ma’s the boss.”

“All right, ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,’ Levee’s version. The man asked how the part go. Ain’t ask for all that. ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.’ One, two, you know what to do. Will you let us play this song? We been playing before you was born. Trying to tell us how to play. All right. Let’s try again. Any man who takes a whole week’s pay and puts it on some shoes, understand what I mean, what you walk around on the ground with, is a fool. And I don’t mind telling him. ****** been having a good time before you was born, and they gonna keep having a good time after you gone. Toledo, I don’t know why you waste your time with this fool. Ain’t nobody studying you.”

“*****, how you know this man done sold his soul to the devil? You talking some old-woman foolishness. Hold on. What happened to his fella? That’s what I want to know. *****, God gonna strike you down with that blasphemy you talking. All right. You gonna be sorry. You gonna fix yourself to have bad luck. Ain’t nothing gonna work out for you. Yeah. All right, *****. You’ll see. Can’t tell a fool nothing. You’ll see. Hey, come on in, boy. I’m Cutler. That’s Toledo, Levee, and Slow Drag over there. Sylvester, huh? I ain’t gonna mess up nothing. Ma say– ******. I done told you time and again. Ma say what to play, not you. You ain’t here to be doing no creating. You play whatever Ma say. *****, don’t nobody care if you quit. Whose heart you gonna break? I don’t think nobody give a damn. Sylvester, look here. The band plays the intro, and then you say, ‘all right, boys, you done seen the rest.’ ‘Now I’m gonna show you the best.’ ‘Ma Rainey’s gonna show you her black bottom.’ You got that? Heh. All right, let me hear you do it one time.”

Levee, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Netflix, Chadwick Boseman


“Hey, hey, hey. Good morning, Chicago. Look here, Cutler! I got me some shoes. Eleven dollars. Four dollars of it belong to Cutler. Yeah. Now I’m ready. I can play some good music now. Damn! They done changed things around. Don’t never leave well enough alone. *****, what is you talking about? I’m talking about the room, I ain’t talking about no skin and air. I’m talking about something I can see. I ain’t talking about no molecules. That door. You see that door? That’s what I’m talking about. Door wasn’t there before. Toledo started all that about the door. I’m just saying that things change. Now this ***** talking about trains. We done went from the air to the skin to the door and now trains. Toledo, I’d just like to be inside your head for five minutes just to see how you think. You done got more shit piled up and mixed up in there than the devil got sinners. You been reading too many goddamn books. You ain’t gotta rehearse that. Ain’t nothing but old jug-band music. they need one of them jug bands for this. I’m talking about art. Where you get this ***** from, Cutler? He sound like on of them Alabama ******. What is you? I don’t see your name in the lights. I ain’t like you, Cutler. I got talent. Me and this horn, we’s tight. If my daddy had knowed I was gonna turn out like this, he woulda named me Gabriel. I’m gonna get me a band and make me some records. I done give Mr. Sturdyvant some of my songs I wrote, and he say he gonna let me record them when I get my band together. I just gotta finish the last part of this song. I knows how to play real music, not this old jug-band shit. I got style. Everybody can’t play like I do.”

“Everybody can’t have their own band. I got sense enough to know that. I could look at y’all and see what kind of band it is. I could look at Toledo and see what kind of band it is. How many times you done play them songs? What you gotta rehearse for? Well, y’all go on and rehearse, then. I’m going to finish this song for Mr. Sturdyvant. I’m ready if you want to rehearse. I said there ain’t no point in it. Ma ain’t here. What’s the point? No, no, no. No, no. We ain’t doing it that way. We doing my version. That’s what Mr. Irvin told me. Say it’s on the list he gave. That’s what I’m trying to say. Oh. I see now. You done got jealous ’cause Mr. Irvin using my version. Where’s the paper? Look at the paper. See what it say. Gonna tell me I’m too lazy to rehearse. I don’t care what you play. Mr. Irvin gonna straighten it up. I don’t care what you play.”

“See, I told you! It don’t mean nothing when I say it. You got to wait for Mr. Irvin to say it. I told you the way it is. I don’t care what you play. Don’t matter to me. Mr. Irvin gonna straighten it up. I don’t care what you play. Mr. Irvin the one putting out the record. You know how many records she sold in New York? And you know what’s in New York? Harlem. Harlem’s in New York. Mr. Sturdyvant and Mr. Irvin say what’s gonna be here.”

“You heard what the man told you. ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.’ Levee’s arrangement. There you go. That’s what he told you. I don’t know why y’all want to pick with me about it. I’m with Slow Drag. Let’s go and get it rehearsed. It go like this. That’s what get the people’s attention. That’s when you and Slow Drag come in with the rhythm, me and Cutler play on the breaks. Hey, hey, hey. Y’all gotta keep up now. You playing in the wrong time. If you was any kind of musician, you’d take care of your instrument. Keep it in tip-top order. If you was any kind of musician, I’d let you in my band. Damn! Slow Drag, watch them big-ass shoes you got. You done stepped on my shoes. What difference it make to you? ***** got them clodhoppers. Old brogans. Hey, Slow Drag. Play something for me. A man gotta have some shoes to dance like this. He can’t dance like this with them clodhoppers Toledo got. ♪ When the world goes wrong And I got the blues ♪. Uh-huh. Yeah. Well, what is you doing, *****? You’re talking all them highfalutin ideas about making a better world for the colored man. What is you doing to make it better? You playing the music and looking for your next piece of pussy same as we is. What is you doing? Well, why ain’t you just say that then? I ain’t gonna be too many more of your fools. All right, I ain’t nobody. Don’t pay me no mind. There you go. That’s who I am. I’m the devil. I ain’t nothing but the devil.”

“Where he at now? That’s what I want to know. He can have my whole handprint if he want to. Hmm. I sure wish I knew where he went. He wouldn’t have to convince me long. Hell, I’d even help him sign people up. Oh, shit. God don’t mean nothing to me. Let him strike me. Here I am, standing right here. What you talking about he gonna strike me? Bad luck? What I care about bad luck? You talking simple. I ain’t had nothing but bad luck all my life. Couldn’t get no worse. What the hell I care about bad luck? I eat it every day for breakfast. You dumber than I thought you was, talking about bad luck.”

“What? Mr. Irvin said we’re using my version. I wrote a version of that song, what picks it up and sets it down on the people’s lap, and here she comes talking this. You don’t need that old circus bullshit. I know what I’m talking about. You gonna mess up the song, Cutler, and you know it. I don’t care what Ma say! I’m talking about what the intro gonna do to the song. The peoples in the North ain’t gonna go for that old tent-show nonsense. They wanna hear some music. I might not play nothing. I might just quit. I done told y’all you don’t know me. You don’t know what I’ll do.”

“All right, Cutler. Let me see you fix that. Straighten that out. Slow Drag, whoo, you hear this shit? How in the hell the boy gonna do the part if he can’t even talk? B… boy, ain’t nobody studying you. Cutler, go on and fix that. You fix that and I’ll shine your shoes for you. Go on and fix that one.”

Toledo, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Netflix, Glynn Turman


“You ain’t got to tell me. I know how Levee do.”

“Eh, we got, uh… mmm. ‘Prove it on Me,’ ‘Hear Me Talking to You,’ ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,’ ‘Moonshine Blues.’ Eh, Slow Drag’s right. I wouldn’t worry about it. Let me get a hit of that. That’s some good Chicago bourbon. How much you pay for something like that, Levee? Ain’t but four songs on the list. Last time there was six songs. Yeah, everything changing all the time. Even the air you breathing change. Yeah, you got, uh, monoxide, hydrogen, changing all the time. Skin changing. Different molecules. Everything. I know what you talking about. You don’t know what I’m talking about. What you think I was saying? Things change. The air and everything. Now you gonna say you was saying it. You gonna fit two propositions on the same track, run them into each other, and ’cause they crash, you gonna say it’s the same train? What you care about how much I read? I’m gonna ignore you ’cause you’re ignorant. Oh! Oh, everybody got style. Style ain’t nothing but keeping the same idea from beginning to end. Everybody got it.”

“Oh, now, Toledo ain’t said nothing to you. Don’t get Toledo started now. Is you all gonna rehearse the music or ain’t you? Levee started all that ’cause he too lazy to rehearse.”

“How that first part go again there, Lev? What? What was that about Toledo? That’s the trouble with colored folks, always looking to have a good time. More ****** have got killed trying to have a good time than God got ways to count. What the hell having a good time mean? That’s what I want to know. Got to be more to life than just having a good time. If there ain’t, then this is a piss-poor life we’re living if that’s all there is to be got out of it. Nobody talking about making the lot for the colored man better for him here in America. Ain’t nobody thinking about what kind of life, the world they gonna leave for the young’uns. It’s just, ‘show me a good time. That’s all I want.’ Aw. It just makes me sick. Hey, I know how to have a good time as well as the next man. I just said there’s got to be more to life than just having a good time. I said, the colored man ought to be doing more than trying to have a good time all the time. It ain’t just me, fool. I said everybody. You think I’m gonna solve the colored man’s problem all by myself? I said ‘we.’ You understand that? We? That’s every living colored man in the world got to do his share, got to do his part. I ain’t talking about what I’m gonna do or you gonna do, or Cutler, Slow Drag, anybody else. I’m talking about what all of us gonna do together. That’s what I’m talking about, *****. Ain’t nobody but the devil.”

“Levee ain’t gonna quit. He need to make money to keep him in shoe polish. You say, uh, you Ma’s nephew?”

Slow Drag, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Netflix, Michael Potts

Slow drag

“Levee tried talking to her and got his feelings hurt. I wouldn’t worry about it if I was you. Ma’ll get it straightened out. Levee left the hotel talking about he was gonna buy shoes. Says it’s the first time he beat you shooting craps. Levee sure was. Ooh! Ooh! Levee say if it wasn’t for Cutler, he wouldn’t have no new shoes. I’m with you on that score. Don’t want to be here all night. Damn the door and let’s do this. I want to get out of here. Let’s rehearse the music. Don’t make no difference to me, long as we get paid. That ain’t what I’m talking about. What’s drawing got to do with it? Ooh. Oh!”

“This is a recording session. I want to get it right the first time and get on out of here. You supposed to rehearse what you gonna play. That’s the way they taught me. Don’t nobody say when it comes to Ma. She gonna do what she wanna do. He gonna put out what she want him to put out. So what if they didn’t sell in New York? We packed them in Memphis, Birmingham, Atlanta. Wait a minute. Let me fix this. This string starting to unravel, and you know I want to play Levee’s music right. Shit. Ain’t nobody done nothing to you. Then move them out the way. You was in my way. I wasn’t in your way. Ain’t nothing wrong with having nice shoes. Look at Toledo. Ooh! Good times is what makes life worth living.”

“I know a man sold his soul to the devil. Name of Eliza Cotter. Lived in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. Devil came by and he upped and sold him his soul. Everybody know. It wasn’t no secret. He went around working for the devil and everybody knowed it. Carried him a bag. One of them carpet bags. Folks say he carried the devil’s papers and whatnot where he put your fingerprint on the paper with blood. Showed up one day all fancied out in the finest clothes you ever seen on a colored man. Pocketful of money, just living the life of a rich man. Had him a string of women he run around with and throw his money away on. One of the fellas of them gals got fixed on him wrong and Eliza killed him. And laughed about it. Sheriff come and arrest him and let him go. Trial come up. Judge cut him loose. Cut him loose and give him a bottle of whiskey. Folks asked him what done happened to make him change, and he tell them straight-out he done sold his soul to the devil and asked them if they wanted to sell theirs, too, ’cause he could arrange it for them. Last I heard, he headed up north with that bag of his, handing out $100 bills on the spot to whoever wanted to sign on with the devil.”

Mr. Irvin

“Testing, testing, one, two, three. Testing, one, two, three. Testing, testing, one, two– uh, I got it. Don’t worry about it. Mother of the Blues, Mel. Mother of the Blues. Like clockwork, Mel. How you boys doing, Cutler? Where’s Ma? She with ya? Where’s the, uh, horn player? Come on in. I’ll get you fed and ready to make some music. Right down the hall. Everything’s under control, Mel. I got everything under control. Cutler, here’s the list of songs we’re going to record.”

“You boys know what’s keeping Ma? Well, you go ahead. Whatever’s on the list. It’s on the list. Oh, Levee’s version. We’re using Levee’s arrangement. Yeah, we’ll work it out with Ma, Cutler. You boys just rehearse whatever’s on that list.”

“Cutler, your boys’ sandwiches are here. Ma! What happened? Officer, what’s the matter? What’s the problem? All right, Ma. Officer, can I speak to you for a minute? All right, Ma. I got it all taken care of. It’s not the place. Here, Ma. Let me take your things. I don’t believe we’ve met. Oh, hello. They’re in the band room. Ma, why don’t you sit and relax? Uh, down that hall. I got it, Ma. I’ll take care of everything. I talked to her last night. Got everything straight. You stay out of the way. Let me handle it. Ma, I called down to the garage and checked on your car. It’s just a scratch, and they’ll have it ready for you this afternoon. They’ll send it over with one of their fellows.”

“Ma, it’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Levee’s version, it really picks it up. That’s what people want now, Ma. They want something they can dance to. Levee’s arrangement gives the people what they want. It makes them excited, forget about their troubles. We just figured– me and Sturdyvant. We decided– no. We just thought– it’s not that. It’s more of what people want. Okay, Ma. I don’t care. I just thought– okay, Ma. Have it your way, but we’ll be ready to go in 15 minutes.”

Mel Sturdyvant

“Got that list? I’m holding you responsible. You keep her in line. I’m not putting up with any shenanigans. You hear, Irv? Irv? Irv? Irv! Not putting up with any Royal Highness, Queen of the Blues bullshit. I want you to get her in here, record those songs on that list, and get her out. And that horn player, the one who gave me those songs, is he going to be here today? I want to hear more of that sound. Where’s Ma? How come she isn’t with the band? Why isn’t she here? And where’s that horn player?”

“What’s the problem? What’s going on? What did you do? She’s late and already– you handled it last time, remember? She marches in like she owns the place, complains about the building being cold, trips over a mic wire, then threatens to sue me.”


“He ain’t from ’round here now.”

Gainesville Crowd

“Yeah, Ma! Yeah, baby!”

Dussi Mae

“Oh. There you go. Over there. Whoa! Sylvester wrecked Ma’s car. Sylvester was driving– she ain’t hit him. He just fell. Hi. Where’s the bathroom? I ain’t never been in a recording studio. Where the band at? Mmm-hmm. I just need me some new shoes. These hurt my feet. I just want some of them yellow ones. About a half size bigger. Look at Sylvester with that hat on. Can I go? I want to see the band.”


“I… I did not. The man hit me. That’s Ma’s car. I ain’t doing nothing to the… piano. I’m… I… looking at it. Okay. Uh… where I go? Which way they at? Sylvester Brown.”

“All right, boys, you done s… s… …seen the rest. Now I’m gonna show you the best. Ma Rainey’s gonna show you her black b… b… b… …bottom. Who… who’s you to tell me what to do, ******? This ain’t your band. Ma tell me to d… do it, I’mma do it. So you can go to hell… *… *… *****.”

Chicagoan 1

“What are you doing?”


“Lady– lady– okay, lady– I’m talking– listen to me. When I walked up on the incident, this lady– you want it in a nutshell? We got her charged with assault and battery. We don’t know whose car it is. That’s what you say. We gotta check it out. I was calling the paddy wagon to haul them to the station, sort everything out. She’s aggressive with the other driver– you let me tell the story? Like I said, while I was waiting for the paddy wagon, I turn to hear this guy’s side of the story. She won’t let him get a word in edgeways. He steps in front of her to tell his version of things, she pushes him to the ground. Come on. Let’s go. Move it out. Clear it out. Come on. Let’s go. Everybody move along.”

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