Denzel Washington, George C. Wolfe, Viola Davis and Constanza Romero, widow of writer August Wilson, are slated to talk with Tracy Smith this Sunday (December 13) on CBS Sunday Morning about the upcoming film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and bringing famed playwright’s plays to the screen.
The Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning Wilson wrote a play for every decade of the 20th century, each reflecting the Black experience at the time. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a new Netflix film inspired by the true-life story of the blues legend, with Washington serving as a producer. Davis leads the cast, which includes Glynn Turman and Chadwick Boseman, the late actor who will be making his final appearance in a film.
Washington says he’s glad to be in a position to bring Wilson’s stories to audiences beyond Broadway and the notion of doing 10 films did not seem overwhelming. Fences, another one of Washington’s adaptations of a Wilson play, landed Viola Davis an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor (Washington).
“No, it was, what’s left for me to do, professionally? This is perfect, you know? It’s not hard, it’s a joy, it’s an opportunity, it’s a privilege, really, to shepherd these, this material,” Washington says. “You know – no pressure. The pressure’s not on me. The pressure is on the filmmakers.”
Wolfe, who directed the adaptation of Ma Rainey and worked extensively with Wilson, who died 15 years ago, says it was a little intimidating bringing this project to film.
“Well, it’s a brilliant piece. And it’s a celebrated work,” Wolfe says. “And so that if I did it badly or redid it badly, everybody would go, ‘You did it badly.”
Davis, who stars as Ma Rainey, says Wilson could get to the essence of human emotion in a sentence or two.
“I think that he captures our humor as Black people,” Davis says. “He captures our humor, our vulnerabilities, our tragedies, our trauma. And he humanizes us. And he allows us to talk.”
Boseman died last August from colon cancer at the age of 43. He kept his diagnosis a secret, and none of his castmates knew he was ill.
“When I look back on it, I go, “Oh, that’s why he was tired between takes sometimes, or he had to go back to his trailer and re-energize,’” Washington says. “You know, I just thought, ‘Oh, that’s the actor’s process and he has to, you know, do what he has to do, or she.’ But, now we know.”
CBS Sunday Morning airs Sundays from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. EST.