Adapted from two-time Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson’s play, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is a profound and moving celebration of the transformative power of the blues and the artists who refuse to let society’s prejudices dictate their worth. The film takes place on a balmy afternoon in 1920s Chicago, where tensions rise between Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), her ambitious horn player (Chadwick Boseman), and the white management determined to control the legendary “Mother of the Blues.”
This stunning companion book offers a visual and narrative tour through the rich and multifaceted history behind Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. We’re introduced to August Wilson, the legendary playwright who excavated Ma Rainey’s story and gave new life onstage; to Denzel Washington and Todd Black, the producers charged with shepherding Wilson’s plays to the silver screen; to George C. Wolfe, the director who has brought a fresh, visionary eye to an established classic, and Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who adapted Wilson’s script with great care; to the seasoned actors who portray the memorable cast of characters; and of course, to Ma Rainey herself—the real-life blues singer whose music helped transform the industry.
Featuring film stills, set photography, quotes from the cast and filmmakers, a Foreword by Wolfe, and an incisive text by award-winning author Samuel G. Freedman, this monograph takes readers behind the scenes and examines the making of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom as a celebration of August Wilson’s life and work. Through interviews with Wolfe, Washington, Davis, and the rest of the film’s cast and creative team, Freedman situates the making of this great film as the story of how a legacy is carried forward.
Samuel G. Freedman is an award-winning author, journalist and professor. The author of eight books, he has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for The Inheritance, and the National Book Award for Small Victories, and he has won the National Jewish Book Award for Jew vs. Jew, and the New York Public Library’s Helen M. Bernstein Award for Excellence in Journalism for Upon This Rock. As a columnist for The New York Times, he received national awards for his coverage of both religion and education. In 2012, he was honored by Columbia University for his excellence in teaching. Freedman began writing about August Wilson in 1984, when he interviewed him for The New York Times after the triumphant premiere of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. He went on to profile both Wilson and his longtime theater director, Lloyd Richards, for The New York Times Magazine. When the Theater Communications Group published the definitive set of the American Century Cycle plays in 2007, Freedman wrote the introduction to Fences.
George C. Wolfe is a renowned director and playwright of theater and film—and five-time Tony Award winner—who has firmly established himself as one of America’s most important and influential cultural voices. With the ability to deftly command both the worlds of stage and film, Wolfe most recently directed the highly anticipated feature film adaptation of August Wilson’s play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, starring Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman for Netflix. A master storyteller, Wolfe first gained critical acclaim in 1986 for his penning of the off-Broadway production of The Colored Museum, and went on to adapt and direct several award-winning off-Broadway and Broadway productions, including the original production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Angels In America-Millennium Approaches, for which he would win his first of five Tony Awards, and its follow-up production Angels in America: Perestroika. In addition to his extensive stage and film work, George C. Wolfe was appointed to President Obama’s Committee for the Arts and the Humanities, and is a Chief Creative Officer of the Center for Civil and Human Rights. From 1993-2005, he served as producer of New York’s famed Public Theater Shakespeare Festival, and was named a “Living Landmark” by the New York Landmarks Conservancy.
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