Netflix is heading to 1920’s Chicago, adapting August Wilson’s award-winning play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” into a feature film.
The streaming giant has landed Academy Award-winner Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Colman Domingo, Glynn Turman and Michael Potts to star in the film, which Denzel Washington will produce, alongside Todd Black and Dany Wolf.
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” was nominated for Best Play at 1985 Tony Awards. The play is one of August Wilson’s ten-play “Pittsburg Cycle,” each of which is set in a different decade and aims to present and explore the Black experience in the 20th century. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is the only one of the ten plays not set in Pittsburg. The streamer has additional rights to produce up to four more of Wilson’s plays.
“Fences,” for which Davis won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2017, was the sixth play in Wilson’s “Pittsburg Cycle.” Washington also produced “Fences” with Todd Black for Paramount — as well as starred in and directed the film.
Washington and Davis starred in the Broadway revival of “Fences” in 2010, both winning Tony Awards for their roles.
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” deals with issues of race, art, religion and the exploitation of black recording artists by white producers. The play takes place in a Chicago recording studio where Ma Rainey’s band players Cutler, Toledo, Slow Drag, and Levee gather to record a new album of her songs. As they wait for her to arrive they tell stories, joke, philosophize, and argue. Tensions begin to boil between Ma Rainey, her white agent and producer, and her bandmates.
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” opened at Broadway’s Cort Theatre in October 1984, playing 276 performances before closing in June 1985. The play was revived in February 2003 starring Whoopi Goldberg and Charles S. Dutton.
Multiple Tony Award-winner George C. Wolfe (“Lackawanna Blues,” “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”) will direct the film from a script adapted by Ruben Santiago-Hudson.
Constanza Romero will executive produce “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” for Netflix. Academy Award-winning costume designer Ann Roth (“The English Patient”) will design the costumes and Branford Marsalis will compose the score.
Filming is set to begin next month in Pittsburgh.
Davis is represented by CAA, Lasher Group and Lichter, Grossman, Nichols, Adler & Feldman Inc. Boseman is repped by Greene & Associates, Management 360, Viewpoint and Ziffren Brittenham. Director George C. Wolfe is repped by CAA and Paul Hastings. Glynn Turman is repped by Marni Rosenzweig at The Rosenzweig Group and SMS Talent.