Despite the title, this is not about Ma Rainey. It's about an entirely fictional, whiny trumpet player and his bloody shoes! Mistake.
Dialogue driven, rather than music driven...mistake!
There are too many monologues. Too, too many unnecessary/irrelevant conversations...and not enough music! Mistake.
Three strikes...and you are out!
And...Ma's bisexuality is more of a hint than an nod!
There are two incredible performances.
There is one stupendous moment...followed by some great music.
There is one earth-shattering conversation about the white man's God...touching on that bizarre cultural appropriation [that no-one ever seems to mention]
... as to how and why the black community embraced and continues to fervently embrace this white man's religion...and, are now the custodians of that hateful doctrine.
The ending...well, that's a sucker-punch to other kinds of appropriation, cultural and copyright...yes, folks, cultural appropriation is not a one-way street, think of it more as spaghetti junction!
Powerful, it most certainly is. Over-written, to its detriment. Beautifully photographed and designed. Indeed, fantastically performed...and, incomprehensibly, lacking in the music department...and, not enough Viola!
Running at only 86 minutes...you will feel verbally abused and musically short changed! George C. Wolfe missed a great opportunity...where two great actors could have lunged at each other from different viewpoints...tradition vs modernity...and, a love triangle that could have been explosive!
As for Ruben Santiago-Hudson's adaptation...c'mon, he didn't adapt [much] from the stage...for the screen. Some [i.e most] plays should remain in the theatre...this is a prime example.
Ma Rainey's story and music needs to heard in its entirety...and, Viola Davis is the woman to tell it. Think of this as the pitch film for the bigger, more truthful, showstopper!