Ray (film)

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Ray poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTaylor Hackford
Produced by
Screenplay byJames L. White
Story by
  • Taylor Hackford
  • James L. White
Music byCraig Armstrong
CinematographyPaweł Edelman
Edited byPaul Hirsch
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • October 29, 2004 (2004-10-29)
Running time
152 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$40 million[1]
Box office$124 million[1]

Ray is a 2004 American biographical film focusing on 30 years in the life of rhythm and blues musician Ray Charles.[2] The independently produced film was co-produced and directed by Taylor Hackford, and written by James L. White from a story by Hackford and White. It stars Jamie Foxx in the title role, along with Kerry Washington, Clifton Powell, Harry Lennix, Terrence Dashon Howard, Larenz Tate, Richard Schiff and Regina King in supporting roles. Along with Hackford, the film was also produced by Stuart Benjamin, Howard Baldwin and Karen Baldwin.

It was released on October 29, 2004 by Universal Pictures. It received positive reviews from critics, with particular praise for Foxx's performance. It was also a commercial success, grossing $124.7 million worldwide against a production budget of $40 million.

Ray received many accolades and nominations and was nominated twice at the 77th Academy Awards. For his performance, Foxx won the Academy Award for Best Actor as well as the Golden Globe, BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild, and Critics' Choice, becoming the second actor to win all five major lead actor awards for the same performance, and the only one to win the Golden Globe in the Musical or Comedy category, rather than in Drama.

Charles was set to attend an opening of the completed film, but died of liver disease in June 2004, months prior to the premiere.[3]


In 1948, young Ray Charles Robinson, the blind son of a sharecropper, boards a bus at a rest stop in northern Florida. Ray lies to the racist bus driver about losing his sight at Omaha Beach in 1944 during the war to get a free ride. He travels to Seattle, Washington where he uses his unexpected talent for the piano to get a job playing for a nightclub band. The club's owner (Denise Dowse) soon begins to exploit Ray, demanding sexual favors and controlling his money and career. After discovering that he is being lied to and stolen from, Ray leaves the band in disgust. In 1950, Ray joins a white country band who make him wear sunglasses to hide his damaged eyes from audiences. They go on tour, and Ray is introduced to heroin. He also suffers from traumatic flashbacks relating to his childhood in the 1930s. The elder of two brothers, Ray is raised by a fiercely independent single mother, Aretha Robinson. The family is poor, but young Ray finds solace in music. He learns to play the piano from a man at a local store. At age five, Ray is playing with his younger brother George in front of their house when George slips into their mother's full washbasin. Ray laughs at first, thinking George is goofing off, but becomes paralyzed with shock as his brother's limbs thrash violently in the soapy water, scrambling to escape. Aretha rushes to pull George from the water, but it is too late. Ray feels immense guilt over his brother's death, and begins to develop vision problems soon afterward. By age seven, he is completely blind. His mother teaches him to be independent despite his condition, and makes him swear that he will never let the world "turn him into a cripple." Eventually, she sends Ray to a school for the deaf and blind, weeping as her only remaining son boards a bus and disappears.

As Ray travels on the road, he demands to be paid in single dollar bills so no one can cheat him. We see another flashback of Ray playing with a country band and the man counting single $1 notes by implying they are $20 to pay Ray. Luckily another band member steps up and demands Ray be paid fairly. As Ray is becoming more and more popular with his music, Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records discovers him. Ertegun’s song, "Mess Around" becomes Ray's first hit.

Ray ends up meeting Della Bea, a preacher's daughter. He falls in love with her, and the two get married. Della is not happy about Ray mixing gospel and soul music, but realizes he's got undeniable talent.

Ray goes out on the road, and meets up with Mary Anne Fisher, a singer who teams up with Ray. On a trip home, Della Bea finds Ray's drugs in his shaving bag, and demands he stop using. Ray refuses, and walks out on a pregnant Della Bea. Ray begins an affair with Mary Anne. As Ray's popularity grows, Ray gets a girl trio to become "The Raylettes". Ray immediately falls for Margie's (Regina King), the lead singer's charms, and the two begin an affair.

Another few years later, Ray is out on the road as a headliner, and one night while doing a set, the band finishes early. The owner of the club demands Ray fill the 20 minute slot he has left, and Ray makes up the hit "What I'd Say" on the spot. During the 1960s, Ray is becoming more and more popular. Ray is offered a better contract with another record label, and although he is loyal to Atlantic, Ray leaves them, but on amicable terms. Ray goes to Augusta, GA, to play a concert, and encounters civil rights protests. Ray protests by saying that he will not play if the black concertgoers have to sit in the balcony. Ray ends up being barred from the state of Georgia.

Another year or so later, Ray then wants to try and do different things with his music, and incorporates classical and country into his sound. Some of his biggest hits come from this mixture, such as "Georgia on My Mind" which Margie says will be Ray's downfall. Ray also records "I Can't Stop Loving You", for which he receives a standing ovation at one concert. While sleeping in a hotel room, Ray's sleep is interrupted by the police who burst in and arrest him. They tell him that they are acting on an anonymous tip that he has drugs in the room and are there to arrest him. Although heroin is found and Ray is charged with possession, he gets off on a legal technicality because the police didn't have a search warrant.

Later, while in a hotel room with Margie, Ray is tinkling on the piano while she gets sick. Margie is pregnant, and demands Ray leave Della and his three children with her. Ray refuses, and Margie is angry. Ray tells Margie to keep her anger, while he literally writes "Hit the Road Jack" complete with Margie's solo. Now that she's got her name out there, Margie leaves the Raylettes to try and make a solo career for herself.

In the early 1970s, Ray and Della Bea move into a huge new house with their kids. Della is uncomfortable in the new house. Ray has to go to Canada for another concert. When he gets off the plane, he is arrested for possession of heroin, his concert is canceled, and the Canadian authorities deport Ray back to the USA. The record company has trouble getting him out of this trouble and a judge sentences Ray to go to a treatment clinic. Della and Ray fight about this and the phone rings. Picking up the phone, Ray learns from someone on the other line that Margie is dead... from a drug overdose. Ray swears to Della that he never turned her onto it and wouldn't let her use it when she was around him. Della says she will start sending money to Ray's child with Margie, but Ray tells Della he already sends him money. Ray goes to a rehab clinic where he suffers from withdrawal and nightmares. One night, Ray has a conversation with his dead mother, who chastises him for letting drugs cripple him. Ray tries to apologize, but his mother won't hear of it. Then his little brother George shows up and tells him that he doesn't blame him for his death.

In 1979 Ray gets off drugs for good and receives his proudest accomplishment, the state of Georgia officially apologizes to Ray and makes "Georgia On My Mind" the official state song. Ray, Della, and their three grown sons receive applause after Ray performs the song before a live audience.



The film's production was entirely financed by Philip Anschutz, through his Bristol Bay Productions company. Taylor Hackford said in a DVD bonus feature that it took 15 years to make the film; or more specifically, as he later clarified in the liner notes of the soundtrack album, this is how long it took him to secure the financing. It was made on a budget of $40 million.

Charles was given a Braille copy of the film's original script; he objected only to a scene showing him taking up piano grudgingly, and a scene implying that Charles had shown mistress and lead "Raelette" Margie Hendricks how to shoot heroin.[3]

Ray debuted at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival.



Box office[edit]

Ray was released in theaters on October 29, 2004. The film went on to become a box-office hit, earning $75 million in the U.S. with an additional $50 million internationally, bringing its worldwide gross to $125 million.[1]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 80% based on 206 reviews, with an average rating of 7.30/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "An engrossing and energetic portrait of a great musician's achievements and foibles, Ray is anchored by Jamie Foxx's stunning performance as Ray Charles."[4] On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 73 out of 100, based on 40 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[5] Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a rare "A+" grade.[6]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote: "The movie would be worth seeing simply for the sound of the music and the sight of Jamie Foxx performing it. That it looks deeper and gives us a sense of the man himself is what makes it special." Ebert gave it a full 4 out of 4 stars.[7] Richard Corliss of Time praised the cast, saying "If there were an Oscar for ensemble acting, Ray would win in a stroll."[8] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote: "Jamie Foxx gets so far inside the man and his music that he and Ray Charles seem to breathe as one."[9]

According to music critic Robert Christgau, "Foxx does the impossible—radiates something approaching the charisma of the artist he's portraying... that's the only time an actor has ever brought a pop icon fully to life on-screen."[10]


Differences from noted events[edit]

The film's credits state that Ray is based on true events, but includes some characters, names, locations, and events which have been changed and others which have been "fictionalized for dramatization purposes." Examples of the fictionalized scenes include:

  • The film's portrayal of Charles' brother George's death in 1935 shows him drowning in a metal tub after Ray doesn't attempt to rescue him because he assumes he is just playing; Ray's mother then discovers George drowning when calling the boys in for dinner. Though George did drown in a metal tub, Ray did try to pull him out, but was unable to do so due to George's large body weight;[11] Ray then ran inside to tell his mother what happened.[11]
  • Throughout the film, it is suggested that Ray's depression and heroin addiction were fueled by nervous breakdowns he had over the deaths of both George and his mother, as well as his blindness. In reality, the death of his mother did give him a nervous breakdown and was thought to be a leading cause of his depression,[12] but the death of George and his blindness did not lead to nervous breakdowns.[12]
  • It is true that Charles kicked his heroin addiction after undergoing treatment in a psychiatric hospital during 1965, as stated towards the end of the film, but it is not mentioned that he would often use gin and marijuana as substitutes for heroin throughout much of the remaining years of his life.[12][13]
  • In the scene in which "What'd I Say" is being played, Charles is depicted as playing a Fender Rhodes electric piano, but in reality, he used a Wurlitzer electric piano on the original recording and began using it on tour in 1956, because he didn't trust the tuning and quality of the pianos provided to him at every venue.[14]
  • In the film, when his backing singer and mistress Margie Hendricks informs Ray she is pregnant with his child, Ray suggests she should have an abortion, out of loyalty to Della; Margie decides to keep the baby and soon leaves Ray to pursue a separate singing career after he refuses to abandon his family, move in with her and welcome the baby into his life. In reality, Hendricks did conceive a child with Charles and abandoned him after he refused to leave Della, but Charles never asked her to have an abortion, and welcomed any child he conceived, whether from Della or any mistress, into his personal life.[13]
  • In the scene in which Charles is about to enter a segregated music hall in Augusta, Georgia, in 1962, a group of civil rights activists protesting just outside the hall successfully persuade him not to perform; Charles then declares that he will no longer perform in segregated public facilities and in response, the Georgia state legislature passes a resolution banning Charles from ever performing again in the state. In reality, a group of civil rights activists did successfully persuade Charles to reject this invitation, but the advice came in the form of a telegram rather than a street protest;[13] Charles also did make up for the gig later, and was never banned from performing in Georgia and still accepted invitations to perform at segregated public facilities.[13]
  • In the film, Margie Hendricks dies in 1964–5. In reality, she died in 1973 of a heroin overdose.
  • During the final scene in the film, when Charles' version of "Georgia on My Mind" becomes Georgia's state song, Charles is congratulated by his wife Della, and a resolution is also passed to lift the lifetime ban he had received in 1962 after he declared he would no longer perform at segregated public facilities. In reality, by the time "Georgia on My Mind" became Georgia's state song in 1979, Charles and Della had already divorced, so she wasn't present when Charles performed at the Georgia State Legislature;[13] and since he had never been banned from performing in Georgia in the first place, no such resolution was ever passed.[13]


  1. ^ a b c "Ray (2004)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved March 15, 2014.
  2. ^ Director Taylor Hackford noted this focus on the years 1935–1965 in his DVD commentary for the film; the only exception to this focus is the film's final scene featuring Julian Bond and set in the Georgia State Capitol in 1979, a scene Hackford included at Charles' specific request.
  3. ^ a b "Music legend Ray Charles dies at 73". Associated Press. October 10, 2004. Retrieved August 31, 2013.
  4. ^ "Ray (2004)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2020-09-19.
  5. ^ "Ray". Metacritic. Retrieved 2020-05-04.
  6. ^ Pamela McClintock (2011-08-11). "Why CinemaScore Matters for Box Office". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2020-09-09.
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 28, 2004). "Ray movie review & film summary (2004)". Chicago Sun-Times.4/4 stars
  8. ^ Corliss, Richard (12 October 2004). "A Ray of Light on a Blue Genius". Time.
  9. ^ Travers, Peter (20 October 2004). "Ray". Rolling Stone.3.5/4 stars
  10. ^ Christgau, Robert (July 5, 2005). "All This Useless Beauty". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved March 25, 2013.
  11. ^ a b "Charles, Ray (1930–2004) – HistoryLink.org". historylink.org.
  12. ^ a b c Ritz, David (22 October 2004). "It's a Shame About Ray" – via Slate.
  13. ^ a b c d e f "History in the Movies". stfrancis.edu.
  14. ^ Evans, p. 109.

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