Monday, December 28, 2020

That Old Thang Back

"I'm just gon' ignore you, cause you ignant." --My favorite line from Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, spoken by Glynn Turman's character Toledo  


At one point in life I was an English major in college.  During that time I took all of the available African American  literature classes, all of which were taught by Dr. Reginald Young.  I still  solute Dr. Young for has passion for black literature in particular, and how he engaged his students in dialogue regarding various texts. I always thoroughly enjoyed and really miss those moments.

Now, a few years before I was an English major, I was an apparel design major at the same university, and one of my minors during that time was art.  As an art major,  I chose to take a few music classes.  One was a piano class and the other was a jazz class.  During that jazz class, my professor (whose name I don't recall, yet I can picture him clear as day sitting at the front of the auditorium-style class holding an instrument) taught us about Ma Rainey.  He played her music in class and ensured that we'd take away from the class the great contributions that she's made to music.   He did the same for every other musical talent taught in that course, as we was passionate about music in the same way Dr. Young had been about the subject matter he taught.   Because he taught us Ma Rainey in the manner that he did and highlighted her work as "mother or the blues" in relation to some of the jazz greats, she's etched in my mind.  

Recently my husband and I watched the film Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.  The word of Chadwick Boseman's passing really caught us off guard, as it did a lot of people who knew and appreciated his work.  We were looking forward to getting to witness him in his final role as Levee in this film.

In all honestly, we threatened to turn it off at least two times in the first fifteen minutes.   We both went into it forgetting that this film was adapted from an August Wilson play.  I appreciate August Wilson's work and enjoy plays. But considering that we didn't start watching the movie until after 10:30 pm and were both pretty tired, something about Black Bottom wasn't working for us. My husband was somewhere between asleep and awake, and I think I was expecting more music/performance than what was being presented.  We both were.    In a word, it was us and not Chadwick 'nem.   However, as the film progressed, we started to perk up. The dynamic between the band members--though loquacious in nature--started to grow on me.   I'm also certainly not mad at Viola Davis as Ma Rainey.  I see Viola as a very powerful actress.  Just a few weeks ago I was recalling her performance in Fences and saying how I need to see that (also an August Wilson play adapted into) film again.  I was really moved by her portrayal as Rose.  I know Denzel was shook standing opposite of her.  

With all the different story lines intertwining, this film turned out to be one that's definitely worth watching.  When it was done, I literally found myself wanting to teleport back to the early 2000s to a classroom in Griffin Hall in Lafayette, LA with Dr. Young  leading us in a discussion about Levee's historical trauma caused by a racist, degenerate mentality which ruled in that day and how, despite what he had told himself about said trauma, the white men who literally acted it out, and "the white man" in general (which the audience learns of via his captivating dialogue), his frustration with that system lead him--in the end--to commit a heinous act against someone who was not his enemy.  His elder. A brother.  Someone who looked like him and who had likely been subjected to the same racist, degenerate system.  

It would be interesting to be in a setting  discussing these plays/films and literature in general, however my life isn't making space for that these days. That's ok.  I've been fortunate to do plenty of that in the past, and I'm happy for others in various community and academic settings who are having these moments at present.  

Here's a 60 Minutes interview with Viola Davis.  I really like her as an actress, and when I see her in film I find myself wanting to know more about her as a person.  She's quite admirable from when I've gathered. 

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