A nation plagued by racial violence, an industry that has a history of exploitation of black culture, white officials are eager to portray themselves as allies, and at the center of it all are black artists, struggling with a system Who will toast them with one hand and choose them with the other pocket.
The story of “Villain’s Black Bottom”, played in August Wilson’s acclaimed 1982 Black Garvey, White Power and the Blues in 1927 Chicago, is written to date. Netflix revisits Wilson’s historical narrative on December 18, a new feature film adaptation, in a contemporary moment when so much and so little has changed.
The second entry in the 10-play American Century Cycle, chronicling the Black experience in each decade of the 20th century, “Rainey” won three tones for its original run on Broadway. The film adaptation is already an award contender for the following year thanks to a lead performance from Viola Davis and a powerful performance by Chadwick Boseman in his final film role before his death in August from cancer.
Davis Ma is an indomitable artist based on the real-life film “Mothers of the Blues”, whose unprecedented superstardom took her from a tent show in Barnesville, Ga., To a recording session in Chicago. White men, who oversee the session, dance in their heads to see dollar signs, fear and respect everyone like their mother, such as his girlfriend Dacy Mae (Taylor Kaur) and a quartet of experienced musicians: Levey ( Bosman), Cutler (Coleman Domingo), Toledo (Gaylene Turman) and Slow Drag (Michael Potts). But when Levey’s own career ambitions tie him to the group, its fragile infrastructure is in danger of being trapped.
Tony Winner George C. Wolff (“Angels in America”) directed the film from a script adapted by Ruben Santiago-Hudson. A recent round-table conversation via video chat, Wolfe, Davis, Domingo, Turman and Potts, discussed working with Bosman, Rhine’s powerful legacy, and articulating your value in a world built on your devaluation . These are parts (and spoiler-free) of our conversation.
The film is dedicated to Chadwick Boseman, presenting an unforgettable performance as Levey. What are some of your memories of working with him? Couldn’t we as an audience know the performance he performed as his collaborator?
George C. Wolf I remember a time when the band sat around the bus during rehearsals, launching into one of their final monologues. It was all very accidental. And then, at a certain point, it was not accidental – it was a fully invested moment full of energy and intensity and truth. I remember thinking, “Oh, we’re going there?” And he went there. We were all half-characters and half-who we were, and then, at that moment, took over that half of the character. And it was fantastic.
Guilt term I fell in love with him like he always lived in a nearby corner. He was always doing something with it, becoming familiar with it, discovering how to become a musician and his instrument. Anytime he picked it up, it was in perfect condition. Whenever they set it, it was in perfect condition. Anytime they put it in their mouth, it was in perfect condition. He became a musician. It was amazing to see. We all took care that the actor should not be done as he is supposed to do. [Laughter]
Coleman Domingo this is true.
Wolf Who, this group? I am confused. [Laughter]
I wonder, when you watch his performance now or when you watch the film, does it play differently to anyone passing by you? Has the meaning changed in any way for you?
Domingo Absolutely. I saw it the other night and I heard Chad’s language in a different way. You see his strength and his humor. It brought tears to my eyes very quickly, which I now know. And knowing that we were all very well capable people and we were doing this tremendous work, showing and wrestling with the language of August. This man had another heavy struggle at the top. I don’t know how he did it. I sat with myself for 15 minutes after watching it and I cried a little, especially when I saw the dedication. It really struck me that she is not with us. I knew it was not written, but to see that it was written, it disappointed me.
VIOLA DAVIS There was an encroachment on Chad’s performance, but needed to happen. This is a man who is angry at God, who has also lost his faith. Hence [Boseman has] That character got hope and death to go to work and the edge of life. Of course, you look back at him and see that he is where he was.
I always say, a carpenter or someone else who works needs some tools to make them work. We are our tool. We have to use. There is no way to tie your way to your hotel. You have to bring it with you, and you need permission to do so. And he went there, he really did.
George and Viola, “Ma Rainey Black Black”, is the only play of August Wilson’s American Century Cycle inspired by a real-life public figure. What do you think it is about his story that is ripe for drama.
Wolf I think he had a reason for August [that] She lived out of the rules. And when one stays outside the rules, it becomes very clear what the rules are. I think she is going to fight, not think about the consequences. She is going to fight the fight as she should. She reminds me … my grandmother was like this. If you were a black woman, if you wait for someone to accept your power, it was never going to happen. Therefore you had to claim your power. He has the qualities that everyone must develop if you are an artist, period, and if you are an artist of color, then enhanced: this is the truth and this is my talent, and this is what I am willing to do And that’s what I’m not willing to do. I think he lived his life in such a pure way. And if you determine that in 1927, you have got drama, because the world is not accepting any of that.
Davis One of the things I love about August is that it gives us a lot of statement, especially in films: autonomy. We are always shown in a filter of a white gaze. It is as if Tony Morrison talks about “The Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison. He is like, “Invisible to whom?” August defines us in private. If you ask one of us who is on this zoom call if we know anyone like Ma Rainey, who can beat your ass on Thursday and be in church on Sunday, that is about their value. I was unattainable, so I grew up with people like us. And of course, I think this is a great beginning for a narrative, for a woman who was known for her autonomy, who did not deserve her, and the men who were around her.
Viola talks to me about stepping into Ma Rainey’s character. There is actually stepped into the costume, but there is also the way she carries herself and the way she interacts with the world around her. Where did you get your inspiration and how did you feel about being on the set?
Davis You just have to look at the given circumstances. He said he had makeup that smelled from his face. In the tent [during her performances], She always looked like she was covered in sweat. She always looked wet. He had gold teeth in his mouth. He was not described as attractive. But because she was such a nutritionist, some people were attracted to her.
Like everything, I always say that if someone wrote a story about my life and they went to my husband and daughter, maybe talk to my mom, you’ll still get me about 40 percent. Second part, you have to depend on your observations in life. You have to order to get that person. What are they living for? When I was to meet my aunt Joyce and other black women, whom I know to fill in the blanks. Who was that in private? Who was she when she was with her women? Even if you don’t necessarily see it, I have to use it as fuel.
A lot of the power of the film comes from interactions between the boys in the band, Glyn, Coleman and Michael. There is a kind of excitement and unease among you, but there is also a situation of tension and rivalry. Tell me how you worked together to create that dynamic.
turman It really starts with a place of being able to enjoy each other’s company. I think we had dinner one evening after rehearsal, where we all went out after meeting each other. Our friendship built on that foundation. Just like in real life, afflictions and inconveniences are how well you know each other, because what you know are the people who can really reach you. So we all were in a lot of pain trying to get to know each other within time. In this way, we were comfortable taking each other out and giving each other [expletive]. And she went onscreen and offscreen. [Laughter]
Michael Potts It never stopped. You are set with a group of men who have no understanding. They did not get any shame. [Laughter]
Domingo I remember Chad came in one day. It was early in the rehearsal. He comes ashore with his hat and trumpets with it. He quietly, very gracefully arrives in a room. And I don’t know if it’s even cutler in me, but I like, “Oh, so you think you won’t talk to anyone when you come in?” Do you walk indoors and not talk to anyone? ” [Laughter] He said, “Ah, no, no!” We were joking that way. But, since then, he made sure every morning that he came and said hello to his brothers and showed respect. Because the feeling was: we cannot be in our own heads. We’ve got to come in and just give it to each other. And that’s what we did.
One of the major questions presented by the film is how did you come to your place in the world – as an artist and entertainer, but also as a black person down a racial racial hierarchy. I’m curious if there were elements of the characters’ stories that resonated with any of you in your own artistic and professional journey.
Domingo I think that is why the play is so resonant, especially for Black artists. You are always trying to make sure that your voice is heard, simply speaking and telling the truth and saying, “No, my place in the world should be elevated because of my giving it.” I’m just asking for what I deserve, that’s all. “I think [the characters] Asking for it I know, really, that I am asking for it. We are all asking for it every day. We wake up fighting for it, falling asleep thinking about fighting for it. And we are fighting to do anything for the next generation, trying to move the dial.
Davis I find it exhausting. I do. I find it very necessary but exhausting. You are fighting for your place. You are fighting to see. You are fighting to listen. It is always a fight. And it is a fight for the simplest things that other people are given without exchange.
My big thing is when I have to fight for my potential. I can’t stand that The part of me that went to 10 years of acting school did that theater, off Broadway, Broadway, TV or whatever it was. And then you go to a Hollywood room and you see that when he is attached to a black, his shelf life is short. This is what strikes me. I don’t like when people question my ability. But it seems to me that all the plays of August are fighting for one place in the world. And here’s the other thing: You don’t have to be a king or queen. You don’t have to be high. They have violated the importance in our lives, even if we have not made it in the history book.