Netflix is competing for the Oscars with Chadwick Boseman’s latest film.
In June 2020, a cruel murder took an impressive crowd to the streets. Everyone shouting the same call: enough to silence the black voices. The lament echoed around the world, reflecting on choked souls for decades.
But there was a positive balance. We finally talk about this uncomfortable subject of racism. And that’s exactly how I would describe The Supreme Voice of the Blues, a five-category Oscar nominee Netflix film – a necessary, uncomfortable but fascinating conversation about racism.
Title: The Supreme Voice of the Blues (Black Bottom by Ma Rainey)
Director: George C. Wolfe
Screenplay: Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Production: Denzel Washington, Todd Black and Dany Wolf
Release date: November 25, 2020 (Netflix)
Duration: 94 minutes
Synopsis: While waiting in a recording room, a group of musicians debate the limits of black existence in a segregated and hostile United States.
A painful past
First of all, I must quickly point out the historical moment in which the film is inserted. The context necessary for the interpretation of this work is presented in a brief initial montage which opens up the care of the artistic direction to transpose the impact of black history in a simple and intuitive way.
The story begins almost a century ago, in 1927 – just 64 years after the abolition of American slavery. The more progressive northern states were seen as a better life expectancy for the black population. The job opportunities generated by World War I were the missing fuse of great migration.
It’s in the midst of this segregation scenario, but hopefully the story begins. The film follows a day of recording by Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), a brilliant blues diva, and her band. Of course, that means musical moments of unquestionable quality, but the real beauty is in the moments of waiting. When the music stops, the silence fills with explosions and there is always something interesting to hear.
Harmony in dissonance
There isn’t a lot of action going on, just people swapping meaningful tales of their stories, demonstrating the strength of a very inspired storyline and excellence in performance. The entire cast delivers palpable emotion in every speech, bringing out different aspects of the black experience, but it’s impossible not to highlight the genius of Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis.
The two characters cannot support each other, so we have little interaction between the two. In the end, that was the best decision to make, because when they’re on the scene, they both completely steal attention.
Davis and Boseman interpret old stereotypes of the black personality, reproduced exhaustively in the history of cinema. She’s an explosive woman, ready to attack anyone. He’s a real rascal, ready to fuck whoever he is. But as the film progresses, the reason for these personalities becomes more and more clear. The performance brings a depth that transforms stereotypes, previously caricatures, into something surreal.
It ends up being more of a pinprick in our racist gaze, eager to find flaws without ever caring about motives.
An orchestra of experiences
The other characters end up broadening the horizons of what the black experience of that time was like, shattering the ingrained idea that everyone was the same. Toledo (Glynn Turman) shows rarely heard philosophical questions, Cutler (Colman Domingo) represents the contradictions of darkness and religion, and young Sylvester (Dusan Brown) represents the eternal impostor syndrome.
There aren’t many changes of scenery, or intrusions from outside forces, but the conversation between these men is so immersive that I haven’t even noticed the passing of time. There is always a tension, urgency and conflict inherent in a group that has learned to never expect anything good out of life.
The most interesting theme, of course, is that of the characters of Davis and Boseman. The pair functions as two sides of the same coin which questions where blacks were inserted in the capitalism of the 1920s. And that question remains. And now, in the 2020s, how much has things changed?
Black voices have been silenced for centuries, this is how our society has been raised. But, even against all odds, they still find a way to survive. Sometimes it sounds like a cry of relief, sometimes a muffled whisper, but sometimes it sounds like The Supreme Voice of the Blues.