Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: Will Gompertz reviews film starring Viola Davis ★★★★☆
Publishedduration1 hour agoimage copyrightNetflix/BBC
As a rule of thumb, the bigger the star the more outlandish the dressing room request.
It has been reported that Kanye West stipulates Versace towels being on hand at all times, and his missus insists the carpet is ironed. Apparently, Madonna wants a brand new loo seat wherever and whenever she goes, and Van Halen's 53-page "rider" is said to list pickled herring, KY Jelly and M&Ms with all the brown ones removed (to check the venue is paying attention to the tiny details). Other alleged diva-ish demands that have found their way into the press are Mariah Carey's desire for an ever-present attendant to whom she can pass her used chewing gum, and Marilyn Manson asking for a bald-headed, toothless hooker.
Given all that, you'd think a modest requirement of one measly bottle of Coca-Cola wouldn't be too much to ask: a cheap, cold drink to whet the whistle in a sweltering recording studio. Surely that's a basic fridge-filler made available to any rookie performer starting out, let alone one of the biggest singing stars in America.
Not back in the 1920s it wasn't. At least, not if you were black.
That's how the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson (1945 – 2005) tells it in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, one of his celebrated "Pittsburgh Cycle" of plays, which chronicle the 20th Century African American experience.
Written in 1982 and first performed two years later to glowing reviews, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom explores talent, ambition, religion, family, race and the historic exploitation of black recording artists by white producers.