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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom continued its successful award season run on Friday, picking up outstanding ensemble cast in a motion picture at the 2021 NAACP Image Awards.
Colman Domingo, Michael Potts and Glynn Turman reunited virtually to speak to The Hollywood Reporter about their award, which Turman says “means a great deal because this comes from an organization that has a deep history in many, many facets of our culture as a Black people.” He adds that “for the NAACP to say that we’ve been apart of a piece that is holding up the image that they’ve been battling to keep straight and correct for so long, when that award is awarded you, you know that you’re a part of something that is historically sound.”
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, based on the play of the same name by August Wilson, stars Viola Davis as trailblazing blues singer Ma Rainey during a turbulent recording session with her band in 1927 Chicago. Domingo says the Netflix film saw the entire cast and crew “be a dynamic ensemble that could hopefully amplify all the things that we’re interested in talking about right now, the things we’re wrestling with in society.” That cast also includes the late Chadwick Boseman, who has received across-the-board recognition for his final performance as trumpeter Levee Green, having already picked up several award season wins and his first, posthumous Oscar nomination.
“He’s deserving of every accolade you can bestow upon him. His performance without question is extraordinary, he himself as a human being was extraordinary, as an artist, he was extraordinary,” said Potts. “I feel that when he is honored, he honors us; that in being honored for this particular work, that we were part of his last performance on film, that we’re part of something very, very special and something incredibly transcendent. And it’s life-affirming, he’s not with us but what we did and what he did was incredibly life-affirming.”
And though Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom scored five Oscar nominations, including a nod for Davis, this year’s award season has raised questions about who and what is being recognized, from the reveal that the Hollywood Foreign Press contains no Black members to vote for the Golden Globes to a historically diverse year of Oscar noms.
“I think the important conversations that we should have moving forward as an industry is exactly what gets elevated, because a lot of times I think certain things are not seen because sometimes it’s not through the white lens, so they don’t know how to actually see it,” said Domingo. “I think sometimes it’s hard to recognize Black love stories, things that are not focused on necessarily trying to make anyone feel any white liberal guilt in any single such way. I think the industry has to do some deep examination of itself, plain and simple, because there’s a lot going on.”
Domingo also questioned how one film or performance can be considered the definitive “best” across such a wide span of projects and thinks “we just have to open up our hearts and minds a bit more.” He adds that the HFPA has to ask itself some deep questions about why it doesn’t have any Black members, and Academy members also need to do some reflection.
“I think we have to really look at being an Academy member as well. We have to really examine who’s watching our films, are they watching our films?” Domingo says. “They get the screeners like everyone else but a lot of times — up until last week, people are like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I still haven’t seen your film.’ Why is that? I saw your films.”
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