Thoughts on ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’

Ma Rainey’s nephew has just gotten into a car accident driving his aunt and her girlfriend to a recording session in a scene early “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

The scene is set in 1927 Chicago. Rainey, played by the incomparable Viola Davis, is about to be hauled away by the police.

Rainey is indignant. Don’t they know she’s the star?

They don’t. Her white manager bribes the cops. She sees the money go from one white hand to another.

Ma Rainey has a lot of power for a Black woman in 1927 America. Her voice sells records and white men will cater to her to a point.

But to get out of going to jail for speaking her mind about a traffic mishap, she needs her freedom bought by a white man.

If the viewer hasn’t caught on by now, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is not a musical bio pic. This is a film about the blues in their truest sense — the oppression of Black and brown people.

She punishes these white men for the oppression and slights she’s endured. She shows up late. She demands her stuttering nephew deliver the intro to her song. She orders Cokes be brought in to combat the heat. She drinks those Cokes slowly while the white record men swear and complain.

Ma Rainey’s voice makes them money. And for as long as it does, they will put up with her. She knows this, hates this and revels in it at the same time.

The trumpet player Levee Green (the late Chadwick Boseman in his final performance) rages against anyone and everyone who doesn’t recognize his ascendancy to the greatest trumpeter of all time.

Levee is cocky and mocks the old ways of his fellow bandmates. He ignores the advice of wise pianist Toledo (Glynn Turman) and mocks the faith of trombone player Cutler (Colman Domingo).

Rage bursts from Levee in self-destructive explosions. He becomes obsessed with a locked door. He rams his body into it until he finally cracks through, revealing a space no bigger than a prison cell with the daylight far away — a symbol of how deep a hole the young Black man begins life and how each door broken through runs into another brick wall.

The story ends in tragedy and blood as so many do for Black Americans, then and now.

I would not go so far as to say I liked this movie, but I was absolutely impressed by it. I love the way playwright August Wilson uses language and builds tension with lines the way an orchestra reaches crescendo.

The reason I say I don’t like the movie is because it’s a sad story that makes a sadder statement about the plight of fellow humans that remains true today.

It’s hard to embrace such discomfort. But it’s a good idea that we do and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is a worthy place to start.

Daniel P. Finney’s new off-off-off Broadway Play is called “Megatron: The Musical.”

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

HOT SHEET: #OldManStudent update, NFL notes, Iowa celebrates small COVID-19 gain, absentee ballot confusion and police success stories

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, sergeant of the watch, Drake Precinct Station.

ITEM ONE: Update on #OldManStudent. The ol’ Paragraph Stacker takes all his classes online via Zoom meetings at Drake University. This format works better than anticipated, but there are pitfalls. Example: Your typist’s bathroom is about 12 feet from his computer. Always remember to mute your microphone when you answer nature’s call because mics will pick up certain sounds one would just as soon remain private.

ITEM TWO: Other Zoom meeting notes: No one looks good eating a sub sandwich on camera. If you happen to have the NFL season opener on in the background, mute the TV and make sure the TV is not in direct line of the camera.

ITEM THREE: The NFL season began Thursday. The defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs beat the Houston Texans. It still feels odd to say “defending champion Kansas City Chiefs,” perhaps the only good thing to occur in 2020. Then again, I’m old enough that it feels weird not to say Houston Oilers. The Bears also did well Thursday evening. The team owes this mostly to not having played.

ITEM FOUR: The typist turns almost all his sporting attention to pro football. His beloved New York Yankees cling to the eighth seed in the American League playoffs. This spot only exists because baseball executives expanded the playoffs to make up for the coronavirus-shortened 60-game regular season. The ol’ Paragraph Stacker questions the wisdom of Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman’s “protect all prospects” approach. The typist grimly notes the Chicago Cubs and Kansas City Royals have won more World Series in the last decade than the Yankees. The Yankee batters may be “savages in the box,” but they’re sad sacks in the standings.

ITEM FIVE: Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds held a press conference to celebrate Iowa dropping from No. 1 in coronavirus spread to No. 3. Wow. What an accomplishment. What did Reynolds do, bus some people to Missouri?

ITEM SIX: Just a day after Hot Sheet warned of absentee ballot confusion from well-meaning non-profits, two Iowa judges ruled absentee request forms that were pre-filled with the voter’s name and address were improper, per the Associated Press. The county auditors in Woodbury and Johnson counties sent the request forms to make it easier for people to seek absentee ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic. Again, the typist supports efforts to increase voter turnout. However, at some point people must take responsibility for themselves — especially in challenging circumstances. To quote retired Drake University professor Herb Strentz, “Democracy is not a spectator sport.”

ITEM SEVEN: Recommended viewing for the weekend:

  • Louisiana at Iowa State, noon, Saturday, ESPN. The Cyclones are playing without fans in the stands and the Hawkeyes aren’t playing until spring. Regardless of your allegiance in the Cy-Hawk rivalry, you might as well give ISU your eyeballs.
  • Philadelphia Eagles at the Washington Football Team, noon, Sunday, regional coverage. Hot Sheet knows no teams of regional interest play in this game, but we want to see how many times the announcers accidentally say “Redskins” and then fall all over themselves to apologize.
  • The Boys, Season 2, streaming on Amazon Prime: Superheroes with sex, blood and breast milk reheated with heat vision. I’m not making this up.

ITEM LAST: Lest we be cajoled into thinking the local constabulary only makes news in officer-involved shootings or amid racial tensions, Hot Sheet turns your attention to three items of note in the most recent Des Moines city news letter.

  • Chief Dana Wingert promoted Lillie Miller to captain, naming her the first Black female captain in the department’s history. Miller, an officer since 1999, was also the department’s first Black female lieutenant under former chief Judy Bradshaw.
  • Jeff Edwards, a former public information officer and DMPD Medal of Valor recipient also attained his captaincy.
  • Wingert recognized Senior Police Officer Scott Newman, a 21-year veteran and a member of the department’s tactical unit, with the DMPD Lifesaving Award. Newman rescued five people from a burning car wreck on his way home from work early July 5.

The typist takes a lot of heat from liberal extremists for his support of police. That’s fine. Honorable people disagree. And who gives a damn what dishonorable people think? The ol’ Paragraph Stacker recognizes every police department has problems. No one lives in a utopia. But the typist notes that no matter how bad things get, no matter how many people hate them — when the shit breaks bad and the citizenry cries out for help, the police come running.

OK. That’s it. Listen to our podcast. Be careful out there and, as always, donations welcome and appreciated.

Behave and be kind.

Daniel P. Finney hopes Rick will finally return him to Earth C-137.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way poking fun at the passing parade.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Masked and confused in Des Moines

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie ordered people to wear masks in public Wednesday — some seven months into the global pandemic.

He didn’t order it when the restaurants and schools were shuttered. He didn’t order it when businesses started slashing jobs because of shortfalls caused by the economic fallout of a nation on pause.

But when the state government is fighting lawsuits from local school districts who believe the Iowa Legislature’s order to send kids back to in-person instruction is dangerous, Cownie finally ordered masks in Iowa’s largest city.

Masks are good public health policy during the COVID-19 pandemic. I just don’t understand why this move is so much more necessary now than it was in March.

Or April. Or May. Or June. Or July.

I like Cownie. I think he’s a good mayor. But this move feels political rather than preventive.

Cownie is a Democrat. Gov. Kim Reynolds is a Republican and Republicans control both houses of the Iowa Legislature.

Somehow, in this stupid country run by the absurdly rich and dishonorable scofflaws, we lack the ability to find consensus on basic facts about best practices during a pandemic.

To be sure, lawmakers’ move to send kids back to in-person instruction is a political move, too.

Gov. Reynolds, charged with upholding the return, is a loyal supporter of President Donald Trump, Trump who doesn’t understand the pandemic.

He only understands it’s another chance to appeal to the vile, racist underbelly of his political supporters by calling coronavirus the “China virus.”

I wonder if this shit had originated in Russia if he would pull the same stunt.

My point is this: There are no adults in charge. Every political office holder seems to want to use this global pandemic as a baseball bat to kneecap their opponent.

Democrats and Republicans are all so busy casting each other as the incarnation of evil that they are impotent and useless when it comes to the basic function of their jobs: Work for the benefit of the public good.

I’ll say this again for clarity: I like Frank Cownie. I want to believe he issued this mask order because he believed it was the right thing to do.

But it’s hard for me to believe that, not because I doubt Cownie personally, but because I doubt our representatives so much.

I know Cownie. I’ve interviewed him. I hugged him the day two metro cops were gunned down. We stood hand-in-hand at a church service at St. Paul’s AME Church after the massacre of parishioners at an AME church in Charleston, North Carolina, by a racist gunman.

I know Cownie is a good and honorable man. Yet the fact that I doubt him speaks to just how broken our nation is. I’m doubting a man I like and trust.

Every important Supreme Court decision seems to be 5-4 on party lines. Every vote in the House is offset by an opposite force in the Senate. We are a mess of a nation whose only consensus is that we hate the other side beyond reason. Moderates are extinct.

Lots of people remember the quote from Abraham Lincoln, then a candidate for Senate from Illinois: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

People forget the rest of statement:

“I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”

Lincoln said that as the nation was on the verge of the bloody Civil War.

I am not as optimistic as Lincoln. I think it is already a house that is broken beyond repair.

I just hope to God I’m wrong.

Daniel P. Finney covers long division and multiplication for ParagraphStacker.com.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life ignored by the oligarchy.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I launch this new venture continuing the journalism you’ve demanded. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.