Astro acts with overwhelming strength alongside Viola Davis – a pity that the film does not reach the stature of its protagonists
The sun punishes Chicago on the afternoon when a troupe of musicians gathers to record Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, one of the first blues records sung by a woman, in 1927. The four black men, of different generations, are directed by the producer, a white man, to an unhealthy basement inside the studio, where they turn on the fan to calm the heat. Everyone there knows that the temperature is still going to skyrocket with the arrival of singer Gertrude Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) – a diva with metallic teeth and luminous skin, unwilling to negotiate compromises between what she wants and the others. “You have seen the rest, now you will hear the best”, warns the introduction of one of his songs.
It is in the almost palpable warmth of this building that most of The Supreme Voice of the Blues takes place, now available on Netflix. The physical space proves to be small for the grandeur of its visitors – just as the film will be. Ma Rainey, nicknamed the mother of the blues, is a giant that history has chosen to forget, and Viola gives her all to do it justice.
Both, however, dispute each span of the scene with a Chadwick Boseman in his last performance. A victim of colon cancer, who would take his life in August, the famous actor as the superhero Black Panther delivers a mesmerizing performance in the skin of trumpeter Levee. It is, in fact, one of his most brilliant performances. The talkative and abundant energy man discharges the traumas of a racist society onto the instrument while trying to be noticed by the music industry, crowded with whites. Boseman never left doubt that he was talented, but such vigor, while suffering the setbacks of chemotherapy, impresses.
Adaptation of the play by the American playwright August Wilson (creator of Um Limite entre Nós, who, in theaters, gave Viola the first Oscar), the Netflix production uses a peculiar format: the filmed theater. Under the direction of George C. Wolfe, another big name on the stage, the actors lay and roll in long monologues of scorching feelings. For those who watch, however, it is boring. When the credits come, you want to know more about the title singer. Ma Rainey broke barriers by imposing herself before record companies that profited from her talent and would influence Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday, as well as displaying a busy personal life. Mainly, it remains the wish that Boseman had not left so soon.