This week's edition of UPFRONT will feature a very special segment with the leading men of Netflix's highly anticipated movie, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. The George C. Wolfe directed project, has been on everyone’s lips this week following last weekend’s splashy sneak preview. Critics from all entertainment platforms have been singing the film’s praising especially for it’s star—-Oscar winning actress Viola Davis. She literally oozes the “blood, sweat and tears” of the legendary "Mother of the Blues” in a way we haven’t seen on the big screen. Davis’ performance could very well position her to become the first Black actress to have two Oscars and would put her neck and neck with her Fences co-star Denzel Washington and Moonlight actor Mahershala Ali.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is also the last major motion picture for Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman, who passed away in August at the age of 43. His performance as Ma's headstrong trumpet player and aspiring songwriter 'Levee,' has Hollywood critics whispering Oscar buzz for him too. He could also make Academy Award history as the first person to earn two posthumous Oscar acting nominations in the same year and if I'm not mistaken, the first African American to do so as well. One nomination for Ma and the second nomination for Spike Lee's Vietnam drama Da Five Bloods.
The real question remains whether or not Boseman would be nominated as a “lead” or “supporting” actor?
While Davis and Boseman shine like diamonds in their respective roles, there are also three other leading gems who give noteworthy performances throughout the movie as well—-Broadway, television, and film legend Glynn Turman, stage and screen star Michael Potts and playwright, actor, and renaissance man Colman Domingo.
According to my conversation with Turman, he was handpicked for the role of ‘Toledo’ after the film's executive producer (Denzel Washington) saw his 2016 performance of that character for the Center Group Theater.
"Hang in there," said Washington to Turman during his backstage visit. "You gone be doing this again and you gone be doing this on screen." And doing it he does! Turman truly delivers a fantastic performance as the eldest musician in Ma’s band. His approach to the character is so familiar that you almost wonder why it’s been four years since we’ve seen him on the big screen. While he’s appeared in numerous television dramas like Queen Sugar, Claws and HTGAWM, Turman hasn’t starred in a major film since the 2016 Jessie Owens biopic Race. Hopefully, this movie will change that.
I wasn't really familiar with the artistry of actor Michael Potts before this film but would soon realize why he was cast in the role of Ma's bass player ‘Slow Drag.’ Potts brings a treasure trove of stage, television and film experience to this character much like the late Leonard Jackson did in the original 1985 Broadway show. Potts also provides some much needed comic relief throughout the film during some pretty intense scenes.
Rounding out the fraternity of actors is award-winning playwright, singer and all-around showman—-Colman Domingo. He stars as Ma's right hand man ‘Toledo’ and brings a certain panache to the role that only he can deliver. Whether he is killing zombies in AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead or holding court with Dr. Martin Luther King in Selma, Domingo always manages to capture the attention of audiences and keeps them in the palms of his hands throughout his movies. Like his other two co-stars, Domingo has also appeared in August Wilson’s stage productions and has fully mastered his words in a way that that makes you as the viewer feel that he has lived every word he is speaking. This not just a script…this is real life.
Check out my full conversation with all three of them below and make sure you tune into UPFRONT this Saturday at 9 a.m. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom premieres on Netflix December 18.