'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' Featurette: Bringing August Wilson's Play From the Stage to Screen

August Wilson‘s words are revered as poetry, his plays taught in classrooms. So it’s no wonder that director George C. Wolfe and producer Denzel Washington wanted to put special care in bringing Wilson’s stage play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, to the screen. In a new featurette, Wolfe, Washington, and the rest of the cast of Netflix’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom delve into Wilson’s “crackling” dialogue and lyrical writing, and how they set about adapting it for the screen. Check out the video below.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Featurette

“He was called the American Shakespeare,” Washington said of Wilson, whose classic play Fences would earn Washington an Oscar nomination for his 2016 feature film adaptation. But even with works as great as Shakespeare’s, filmmakers have to be careful so as to not make a feature adaptation feel too much like a play, which Wolfe, Washington, and star Viola Davis put a lot of care into. Wolfe wanted the film to “feel cinematic,” while retaining the spirit of Wilson’s play, which Davis and the rest of the cast praise him for being able to pull off.

The featurette is also full of scenes centering around Chadwick Boseman‘s trumpeter Levee, in the star’s final feature film role, for which he’s earning posthumous Oscar buzz. It’s always bittersweet to see Boseman again, but the searing performance he gives in these short scenes, which show the dialogue onscreen next to him, is amazing to watch. Davis too, is a powerhouse in the short scenes in the featurette, which comes a little late — the film already debuted on the streamer 10 days ago.

George C. Wolfe directs Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom from a script by Ruben Santiago-Hudson. The film also stars Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, and Michael Potts.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is streaming on Netflix right now.

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