Ma Rainey Director George C. Wolfe on the Legacy of Race and Black Artists in the Entertainment Industry

Know your worth. Period.

This idea of understanding one’s value is critical in personal and professional life. I’d argue that it takes years of this knowing and a tremendous amount of courage to begin demanding said worth.


Playwright and two-time Tony-award winning director George C. Wolfe explores this theme, among others, in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Make no mistake, Ma Rainey was a Black woman navigating the music industry in the 1920s—white executives would, no doubt, exploit her if they had the opportunity. Still, the performer understood her worth and wouldn’t accept anything less than what she thought she deserved. In the film, Ma (portrayed by Viola Davis) sums up her stance pretty clearly, “I don’t stand for no shit.”

At another point in the film, Ma describes the dynamic between Black performers and the white people (who at the time) almost exclusively ran the country’s record labels. “You’re colored and you can make them some money, then you’re alright with them,” she says. “Otherwise, you’re just a dog in some alley.”


Are Black artists are still perceived this way today?

I think it’s a fight for all artists to be treated the way they want to be treated, to be respected, the way that they want to be respected and to be valued,” Wolfe told The Root. While the director believes that all artists want to be seen and heard, the situation becomes a bit dicier if they are Black.

“Then you add into the equation race and the legacy of Black performers (in terms of the entertainment industry), then it becomes this complicated, really brutal, painful, historically overwhelming machine,” said Wolfe.

If you haven’t seen Netflix’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom yet, then you’re definitely missing out. Watch a snippet of our conversation with George C. Wolfe about the film above.



This film came up short in several ways. I did love seeing Chadwick Boseman though.  Translating August Wilson to film is not easy.

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