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Viola Davis To Play Queer Blues Legend Ma Rainey for the Big Screen

Viola Davis

Academy Award winner Viola Davis has been tapped to play the unapologetically queer "mother of the blues" Ma Rainey in  August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom alongside Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

A Tony and an Oscar winner for her role in Wilson’s Fences (opposite Denzel Washington on the big screen in 2016), Davis’s How To Get Away with Murder character is bisexual. But with Rainey, she’ll get to explore the life of one of the most famous blues singers and LGBTQ pioneers of the day. 

Wilson’s 1982 play unfolds in a recording studio where tensions eventually turn violent as Rainey, her bandmates, and her white agents work to make a record. The play includes a character named Dussie Mae who is Rainey’s girlfriend.

Rainey moved in circles with famed lesbian blues singers including Bessie Smith and Gladys Bentley. Her “Prove It on Me Blues” was ahead of its time in terms of its overt queerness.

“Went out last night with a crowd of my friends. They must've been women, 'cause I don't like no men,” the song goes.

George C. Wolfe, who helmed Oprah Winfrey’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, will direct Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom while Tony winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Lackawanna Blues) is set to adapt the play for the screen.

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