Viola Davis's Ma Rainey's wigs were made of horse hair
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is out on Netflix. The film is the last of Chadwick Boseman's offerings, but that isn't the sole reason why it is expected to score well critically and commercially. Viola Davis, the exemplary actor, who went to great lengths to acutely depict the persona of Ma Rainey, hailed as the Mother of the Blues, is the main talking point here.
The Academy Award-winning actor had to gain a lot of weight to replicate the on-stage aura of Rainey. "The blues singer was really big, close to 300 pounds. I got close to 200," she quipped. And, in order to ace Rainey's on-stage wigs, the creators decided to get just what it took for the singer to don those head coverings, i.e. high quality horsehair.
The hair department head of the film, Mia Neal, told reporters that the pictorial information available about Rainey and reading materials helped create a flawless impression about her style statements. Further, Neal said that when she got her order of horsehair to work on Viola's wig, she found coarse hair strands filled with dung and lice eggs, which she cleaned on her own.
"I had plastic everywhere. I boiled that wig several times to clean it," Neal said, adding that Rainey also had another wig for off-stage use, which she wore like a hat, and that was made of European hair. Another fact about dressing Davis up the Rainey way was the consideration that women of color had limited access to salons back in the 1920s.
The movie, which tells the story of this underrated singer, who paved the way for the revolution of the genre of Classic Blues, has been directed by George C. Wolfe. Upon its release, it was well-received by critics and viewers, alike. Interestingly, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom was also listed by former US President Barack Obama as one of his favorite films of the year.