Chadwick Boseman’s death at the end of this past August caught us all by surprise, including himself, who hoped to recover to bring Black Panther back to life. Unfortunately, this was not the case and after his death, only one film in which he had participated remained to be released. The tape in question is ‘The mother of blues’ and arrives this Friday, December 18 exclusively on Netflix.
Directed by George C. Wolfe, ‘The Mother of the Blues’ is the film adaptation of a 1982 play by August Wilson in his series exploring the African-American experience throughout the 20th century. The focus here is the recording of an album by the singer Ma Rainey and the tensions that arise both with the owners of the recording studio and with an ambitious trumpeter. The film maintains a theatrical flavor and draws on the great work of both Boseman and Viola Davis.
Two Powerful Protagonists
It is so evident that there have been advances since 1927 as that racism continues to have a strong presence in American society, especially in some areas of that country. For this reason, there is surely the temptation to extrapolate the ideas that ‘The mother of the blues’ raises to today’s society, something perhaps a bit exaggerated, at least in everything that happens outside the recording studio, since that is when the situation history of the story leaves a clearer mark on what we see in the film.
Within it, the conflict remains linked to the racial, but also in relation to the position in the social ladder, with Ma not letting the slightest pass to remember who is in charge there, the trumpeter Levee making it clear that he does not he is willing to settle for the cards life has given him and the studio owners maneuvering to get what they want at the lowest possible cost.
The rest of the characters work as complements to the others in different aspects and easily comply with what ‘The mother of the blues’ demands of them, something that to some extent also applies to the owners of the studio. The really juicy thing about ‘The Mother of the Blues’ is in Boseman and Davis, who takes over everything when the camera is focused on them, almost flying sparks when they collide with each other.
An Exhilarating Contrast
Unfortunately, the film keeps them apart for much longer than together, which gives rise to very powerful scenes of reflection, especially that moment in which Levee remembers what happened to his father, a fact that left him marked forever. For him to settle for being one more is not an option and he has the talent to be given a chance, what he does not have is the right skin color so that no one really bet on him.
To be fair, the character with the most marked evolution in the film is him despite the fact that everything actually revolves around her. In the case of Ma, Davis has to oscillate between the need to be respected and a certain air of a diva who is known to be untouchable, something unusual at the time as she was openly a lesbian. That leads to her having an imposing presence at all times and giving off absolute confidence in herself. Physical transformation helps your thing too.
That confidence is also what Levee has even though his fellow musicians few less than laugh at him and his new shoes on more than one occasion. There a stimulating opposition arises between promises that may never be fulfilled with Levee and others that are trying to break the minimum with Ma but that one is always clear that they will end up being kept.
This is something that Wolfe knows how to capture quite successfully despite the fact that it is the energy that the performances give off and not his visual treatment of the script that allows ‘The mother of the blues’ to escape the dreaded statism into which it could have very easily fallen. For its part, it cannot be said that it contributes much to see in this film other than filmed theater, something evident even in its very powerful ending. There you can see even more than the performances, the more naked they are, the ones that really stand out here.
‘The mother of blues’ would surely have benefited from having a visually daring director behind the scenes, but the force of the story is there and both Boseman and Davis shine with their own light in a film that deserves the shame to give it a try.