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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom | 2020 | R | – 6.5.6

content-ratingsWhy is “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” rated R? The MPAA rating has been assigned for “language, some sexual content and brief violence.” The Kids-In-Mind.com evaluation includes a sex scene, several scenes with women dancing suggestively, several flirting scenes and a discussion of rape, a murder by stabbing with some blood shown, a car crash without injuries, several arguments, discussions of attacks on Black people by white people, and at least 7 F-words and other strong language. Read our parents’ guide below for details on sexual content, violence & strong language.


In this adaptation of August Wilson’s play, a blues singer (Viola Davis), a loud-mouth trumpeter (Chadwick Boseman) and the rest of their band meet at a recording studio in 1927 Chicago for a difficult and eventful session. Also with Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo and Michael Potts. Directed by George C. Wolfe. [Running Time: 1:34]

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom SEX/NUDITY 6

 – A man stares at a woman’s clothed buttocks as she writhes to music in a recording studio and the woman’s lesbian lover (who’s the man’s boss) tells her managers to stop him (they do not comply); the man and the woman meet in a basement, where they flirt and giggle, he rubs her knee and raises her skirt to rub her thigh (we see a garter), says that women call him “Sweet Lemonade” and says, “Can I introduce my red rooster to your brown hen?” and they kiss for several seconds; she says, “Get your own band and we’ll see if your rooster can crow,” they rush into another room, stand against a wall, she wraps a leg around him as they kiss (we see her bare thigh and a garter), he makes a remark about what she would sound like during orgasm, he rubs her buttocks, carries her to a piano and sets her on the keyboard, removing his vest as they kiss; we see them from the shoulder up and both are still clothed as the man thrusts in the now dark room.
 A woman stares at the buttocks of her lover and smiles as the lover writhes and hums; she then embraces the younger woman from behind, rubs the sides of her hips, kisses her neck, and sings into her ear softly. A woman turns her back to a man, writhes and sways her hips and another woman (she’s her lover) shouts at her to stop. A woman singing in a club about the black bottom dance, squats low and sticks her hips and buttocks far out as men and women in the audience cheer loudly and laugh; six dancers wear short ruffled skirts that bare their legs and most of their thighs as they writhe to the music and shake their hips at the audience as they cheer and applaud. A man on a sidewalk grins at several women as they walk past him and he stares at their behinds.
 A man tells three other men that as a young boy, he saw eight or nine white men burst into his house and rape his mother, but did not know what was happening except that they were hurting her (please see the Violence/Gore category for more details).
 Several scenes include a woman wearing deeply cut dresses with necklines that expose significant cleavage. A woman takes a small purse out of her bosom and puts it back.


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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom VIOLENCE/GORE 5

 – A man steps on another man’s shoes twice and the second time, the second man shouts at the first man, berates him at length, and grabs a knife and stabs him in the back; the victim waves a chair to fend off the blade, moans and whimpers, falling to the floor and dying as the killer sits on the floor holding the body and says, “Don’t look at me like that” (the dead man’s eyes are open and we see blood on his shirt lapel and on the killer’s fingers).
 A man says that as a child, when a gang of white men raped his mother (please see the Sex/Nudity category for more details), he grabbed a knife and tried to cut a man’s throat; the man grabbed the knife and slashed the boy’s chest, and the men fled because they expected the boy to bleed to death and his mother carried him on foot two miles to a family that drove them to a doctor that said he did not have time to look at the boy; the mother carried her bleeding son to a midwife who helped them (the man opens his shirt to show a long, diagonal scar across his chest from armpit to sternum); he says that his father moved the family and disappeared, and that the father killed four of the attackers with a knife, but was lynched and set afire before he could kill the rest. A man makes a comment denigrating God and another man punches him hard in the face while two other men shout.
 A car crashes into another car and we see steam rising (we hear that only a scratch occurred) as a woman passenger and the driver of the other car argue in the street; a police officer says the man should charge the woman with assault and battery and when another man approaches, the officer says that the woman punched and pushed the driver down, but the woman says the man bumped into her and fell; the second man gives the officer a bribe and the officer tells the car owners and spectators to go home. A man crosses a street and a car’s tires screech as the driver avoids hitting the man.
 A white record producer asks a Black man to write songs and then tells the writer the songs are worth only $5.00 each because people won’t like them; the writer becomes extremely angry, but is left with only a couple of five-dollar bills as the camera cuts to the studio, where a white male singer and white band are recording one of the Black man’s songs. A younger band member later speaks disrespectfully to a woman and says that she does not matter in the music business; she fires him and he stalks out of the room, slamming the door; he walks to the basement and bangs on a locked door, finally kicking it open. A frustrated man slaps his hand against a wall.
 A man says that a rich man murdered someone, but the judge dismissed the case and gave the defendant a bottle of whiskey (bribery implied). A man says that a preacher was forced to use a segregated outhouse 200 yards behind a train station, which caused him to miss his train and while walking on the tracks, several white men followed him, someone fired a gunshot, and the men made the preacher dance; they then tore the cross medallion from his throat and ripped up his Bible. A man says several times that a rich man sold his soul to the devil. Different pairs of men argue in several scenes and four men argue loudly together in a few scenes, sometimes shouting. A woman argues with two men several times and threatens to take her recording business to a different company unless she and her band members are treated fairly. A man stutters through the speaking part of a song intro during a recording session; men taunt and berate him until a woman singer shouts and threatens to take her band elsewhere. A man says that colored people are the leftovers in society. Several men wearing work clothes stare and frown at three men wearing suits on the sidewalk. In a hotel lobby and restaurant, men and women stare and frown at a Black woman, a younger Black woman, and a younger Black man as they walk past. In a store, many white men stop talking, stare, and frown at two Black men who enter and the scene ends.


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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom LANGUAGE 6

 – About 7 F-words and its derivatives (one instance of a man calling God an F-word derivative), 21 scatological terms, 14 anatomical terms, 30 mild obscenities, 37 derogatory terms for African-Americans, name-calling (fool, cracker, crazy, nonsense, simple, dumber, coward, cheap, uppity, highfalutin’, whore, ignorant, lazy, jug band, circus, old woman, clodhoppers, spooked-up, Royal Queen, Queen of Blues), exclamations (whoo, shoot), 2 religious profanities (GD), 21 religious exclamations (e.g. Good God, Please God, Christ Almighty, Oh Lord, Lord Have Mercy, Jesus Help Me, Oh Lord, Christ’s Sakes, God Hates [derogatory term for African-Americans deleted], Jesus Hates Your Blackness, That’s My God, you blaspheme my God, God’s gonna strike you down, God don’t mean nothin’ to me, God got ways that count, God come on and save this [derogatory term for African-Americans deleted]. | profanity glossary |


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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom SUBSTANCE USE

 – A man drinks what is presumably alcohol from a flask in five scenes, two men drink from a flask, and one man rubs some alcohol on his shirt underarms. Men in several scenes smoke cigarettes on a sidewalk, a basement and in a recording radio, and several men smoke cigarettes in a store (we see large clouds of smoke in the indoor scenes).


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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom DISCUSSION TOPICS

 – 1920s cultures, bigotry, racism, North vs. South, the blues, hard work, exploitation of Black musicians, opportunists, early Black musicians in Chicago, injustice, organized religion, violence, murder, rape, same-sex relationships, guilt, subservience, self-pity, fear, cruelty, conflict, financial hardship, loss, grief, sadness, depression.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom MESSAGE

 – Ma Rainey fought hard against white oppression and exploitation to build the foundation of blues music in America.

CAVEATS

Be aware that while we do our best to avoid spoilers it is impossible to disguise all details and some may reveal crucial plot elements.

We've gone through several editorial changes since we started covering films in 1992 and older reviews are not as complete & accurate as recent ones; we plan to revisit and correct older reviews as resources and time permits.

Our ratings and reviews are based on the theatrically-released versions of films; on video there are often Unrated, Special, Director's Cut or Extended versions, (usually accurately labelled but sometimes mislabeled) released that contain additional content, which we did not review.


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