Ma Rainey’s black background entered the awards race with impressive credentials. One of two films from last year starring the late Chadwick Boseman, George C. Wolfe’s Netflix film also reunites star Viola Davis with the work of playwright August Wilson, a winning combination that has earned him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for 2016. Fences.
This time, the intimate setting is a Chicago studio in 1927, where blues singer Ma Rainey (Davis) and her band prepare for what will be a busy recording session.
Coleman Domingo, who plays blues musician Cutler, explains during the film panel at Deadline’s Contenders Film Awards season event that Wilson’s 1982 drama still has a lot to say about today. Referring to the talent gathered, he said, “Everyone here has been gifted with the tremendous responsibility of telling the story of Ma Rainey and her band and the blues. The blues is America. The blues is the story of African Americans and their history in America, and we are at this moment crucial to delving into and questioning the soul of who we are.
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For Davis, that sense of African-American identity was a vital draw, she explains during the discussion that also featured Michael Potts, Taylor Paige, Dusan Brown and director George C Wolfe.
“I’ve always wanted to play human beings,” she says, “and I think I’ve spent a better part of my career doing classics and working hard to imagine myself. [plays by] George Bernard Shaw or Shakespeare, or Eugene O’Neill or a number of great playwrights. It’s always me who takes everything I want to say – my blackness, my femininity, my memories – and I try to insert a square peg in a round hole… But I don’t have to really work on that part. with August. August is already talking to my soul. August begs me to give her my darkness, to give her my femininity and my memories – all the things that make me me.
Check back soon for the panel video.