19 December 2020 14:37
The stage name "Ma Rainey" would come in the aftermath of her 1904 marriage to Will Rainey, a comedian and singer. Together, they created a double act known as "Ma and Pa Rainey" and performed as a duo as part of a number of acts, including circus entertainment and minstrel shows. But as the film shows, Ma was very likely bisexual, and open about her sexual attraction to women. In Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, she's accompanied by Dussie Mae (Taylor Paige), a young woman who is clearly in a relationship with Ma. When rebellious trumpet player Levee (the late Chadwick Boseman in his final role) makes eyes at Dussie Mae from across the room, the rest of the band warns him off, stating that she is off limits. (He doesn't listen.) Though constrained by the terminology and attitudes of her time, Ma was certainly more open about her sexuality than most women — and especially Black women — were back then.
Rumour has it that Bessie Smith once had to bail her out of jail after she was caught with one of her dancers, and her lyrics are full of allusions to her fascination with women.