Know Your Worth: Viola Davis Is Every Black Woman in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Viola Davis is a force.

If her roles as Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder, Rose Maxson in Fences or Aibileen Clark in The Help haven’t convinced you, no doubt Davis’s performance in Netflix’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom will make you a believer. Davis commands the screen—audiences will not be disappointed. Promise.

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Perhaps the power of the performance is Viola Davis’ strength of spirit. I’d argue that the 55-year-old actor shares some similarities with the iconic chanteuse. Ma Rainey and Davis are both Black women who understand—and demand—their worth. In all circumstances.

Indeed, Ma Rainey understood that as a performer, she had power. She also understood that white record execs wanted her voice; without it, she would be just another Black bisexual woman from the South. In the film Ma says this, referring to white record execs, “You’re colored and you can make them some money, then you’re alright with them.” She continued, “Otherwise, you’re just a dog in some alley.”

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Given that Black women have engaged in an ongoing fight to place their stake in the ground (in a gamut of spheres), we couldn’t help ask Davis if—and how—she felt that society had failed us.

There is no ambiguity for the triple-crown actor.

“Society’s most definitely failed Black women.” Davis continued, “We were seen as chattel. We were seen as just, you know, something that was bought on an on the auction block.” And now we’re living in a culture that just reduces us to strong; to almost masculine in nature. There’s no sense of wanting to protect us.”

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom premieres on Netflix on Friday, Dec. 18.

Afro-Cuban woman that was born and branded in New York. When León isn't actually creating cool videos, she's thinking of cool videos that she can create.

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