If you haven’t been paying attention to “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’s” Best Picture Oscar prospects, now is the time to start. The film, which is based on the play of the same name by August Wilson and stars Viola Davis as the influential blues singer, has been rising in Gold Derby’s Best Picture odds since debuting on Netflix in mid-December. It is currently sitting in third behind “Nomadland” (7/1 combined odds) and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (15/2 odds). But can “Ma Rainey,” which also features Chadwick Boseman in his final role, climb even higher to the top spot? It’s not crazy to consider it’s possible.
Although “Nomadland” has been sitting comfortably in first place for months, it was also one of the first films to premiere in September, when it earned raves and top prizes at the Venice Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival, giving it plenty of time to gain momentum (it’s scheduled to be released in select theaters and on Hulu on Feb. 19). Similarly, “Chicago 7” had a limited theatrical release in late September and dropped on Netflix on Oct. 16.
In comparison, “Ma Rainey” only debuted Dec. 18, with the first screenings taking place in November. Since then, it has risen slowly but steadily in the Best Picture odds alongside its stars, overtaking “One Night in Miami” in December and then the much-hyped “Mank” earlier this month. “Mank,” which was in second place behind “Nomadland” for much of the season, has fallen from second to third to now fourth in the last four weeks. With the shifted awards calendar and the subsequent extended eligibility period, there is still plenty of time left for “Ma Rainey” to build up its own momentum and take the lead.
Currently, the combined predictions from Gold Derby’s Experts, Editors and Users have the film favored to nab seven nominations in all, with 10 Experts predicting Davis to take home the award for Best Actress and 23 favoring Boseman to do the same in the Best Actor race (Boseman is also in the running in Best Supporting Actor for “Da 5 Bloods”). Should Davis prevail, it would be her second Oscar, having taken home the award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in “Fences” (2016), and she’d be the second Black woman to win the category after Halle Berry (2001’s “Monster’s Ball”). Boseman would be third posthumous performer to win an Oscar after Peter Finch (1976’s “Network”) and Heath Ledger (2008’s “The Dark Knight”).
Having Davis and Boseman as frontrunners helps the film’s overall odds, but it’s also worth noting that “Ma Rainey” is playing well with critics and the public, with users giving it 9/1 odds to win Best Picture. So while many viewers might be watching the film to see Boseman, who died in August after a private, years-long battle with colon cancer, they’re also liking what they see.
If “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” does manage to overcome the rest of the field to take home the Oscar for Best Picture, it would be a historic moment for Netflix, which has yet to win the top prize despite receiving significant buzz and plenty of critical praise in recent years.
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