Oscar Watch: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

For Oscar prognosticators, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has looked to be a major hopeful for some time. Based on the August Wilson play and directed by George C. Wolfe, the 1920s set musical drama hits Netflix in December. The social media reaction embargo lapsed this weekend and confirmed hunches that it will be such a thing in various races.

When I began my weekly prediction posts in late August, it was assumed that Chadwick Boseman would compete for Supporting Actor here. At first, I had him ranked #2. Just days after my first estimates, the actor passed away. He rose up to #1 in Supporting Actor and stayed there until Netflix confirmed that he would vie for Best Actor. Early buzz suggests that he is unquestionably a lead and this sets up a real battle which I’ll get to momentarily. Critics are also calling it his finest performance and his inclusion in the category is a given now.

As for his costar Viola Davis, word of mouth suggests her part is a little smaller than expected. Yet the general consensus is that she’ll still stay in Best Actress. If Netflix chose to make a switch to Supporting, she would probably be the front runner (she won the race four years ago for Fences). However, by staying in the crowded Actress field, I question whether she remains in first place when I update my picks on Friday. The competition could be steep with the likes of Frances McDormand (Nomadland) and Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman).

Back to Boseman. Not withstanding any unseen performances, Best Actor is shaping up to be a real showdown between Anthony Hopkins (The Father) and Boseman. This appears bound to play out over the next several months. That said, a development could occur to shift the narrative. In Supporting Actor, Boseman is also expected to contend for Da 5 Bloods. If he gains favorite status in that field, it could help Hopkins remain the anticipated victor. As for Rainey‘s own supporting actors (Glynn Turman and Colman Domingo), the pair are long shots due to that category’s packed nature.

Could Rainey get a Best Picture nomination? Yes, but I think it’s far from guaranteed and I don’t expect Wolfe to make it in the final five for his direction. Adapted Screenplay is also a question mark while tech races like Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, and Production Design are surely on the table.

Bottom line: Boseman has absolutely established himself as a threat to posthumously take Best Actor with Hopkins as the significant competitor. Davis looks mostly safe in Actress, but a win is much more questionable. And my Oscar Watch posts will continue…

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