In Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, that moment when Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) says, "They don't care nothing about me, all they want is my voice."
Then the long moments she stands with her nephew Sylvester (Dusan Brown) as he stutters through the intro for her song, insists on take after take until he gets it right, while the white managers get impatient about what the retakes will cost them.
Then the moment where (spoiler alert) Sylvester does it—he goes through the spoken introduction without a stumble—and Ma Rainey picks up the song without missing a beat, but a wide, mischievous smile.
This was Ma Rainey showing her relational care for her nephew. Not just so that he would earn some money, but because she wanted him to get the experience of having done it. She was letting him know that she had faith in him, his gifts. A very different affective structure than the one in which white men used her talents for their own profit.
As Ma Rainey sings the rest of the song, Sylvester breaking out in a small dance: relief, pride. After the song is done, she applauding him—delighted hug: "See, I told you you could do it!"
connect with me