Jamie Foxx plays Charles as the film shows him from his humble roots in Florida as he became blind, to his first performances in clubs, to reaching mainstream success in the 1950s and the 1960s with his unique blend of Country, Gospel, Jazz and Orchestral influences, all while dealing with racial segregation, his blindness, and a heroin addiction.
The film was a huge critical and financial success, earning Foxx the Academy Award for Best Actor.
Tropes featured in this film include:
- Adult Fear: When his first son is born, Ray (who's blind) asks Della Bea if he has every body organ intact.
- Bedmate Reveal: As Ray takes a phone call while he prepare another heroin fix, we see his bedmate sit up and ask "Is that your wife?"
- Cynicism Catalyst: Ray is horribly traumatized by the death of his little brother George, who drowned in a washbin.
- Determinator: Ray's mom forces him to never be a cripple and to never let anyone take advantage of him.
- Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Ray's mother instill this into him, along side Determinator: That nobody should pity him for his condition and he will stand on his own.
- Drugs Are Bad: Ray Charles' drug addiction, which gets him trouble with the law, and eventually Bea hates seeing him get too loaded to spend time with his children.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Ray finally achieves his greatest honor: "Sweet Georgia on My Mind", becoming the state song of Georgia. After overcoming poverty, prejudice, blindness, his dead brother, and drug addiction.
- Everyone Has Standards: The racist bus driver Ray encounters has little sympathy for his blindness, but agrees to help Ray after he makes up a sob story about being a vet.
- Functional Addict: Ray. His criticism of other band members for showing up to work drunk or stoned seems hypocritical, until he truthfully points out that he never lets his drug use affect his work.
- Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Ray suggests that Margie have one when she tells him she's pregnant, but she refuses.
- Hallucinations: Ray sees visions of his dead brother, which is pretty interesting what with being blind and all.
- It's All My Fault: Ray blames himself for the death of his brother.
- Mononymous Biopic Title: "Ray," naturally
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Ray demonstrates what he calls 'Country Dumb' to make people underestimate him, both to test Ahmet Ertegun's forthrightness as well as squeeze out a deal "better than Sinatra gets" out of ABC-Paramount
- Poor Man's Substitute: In-Universe. Ray's first recording sessions for Atlantic Records are a disappointment, as he is clearly trying to be a knockoff of other, more famous singers. "No one wants another Nat King Cole," Atlantic songwriter and arranger Jesse Stone groans.
- Scare Chord: When Ray's brothers arms come out of the wet suitcase.
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Ray gets banned from performing in Georgia because he refuses to play for a segregated audience. The ban eventually gets lifted. The scene is only half true, however. In real life, Ray refused to play, but he only ended up having to pay the promoter compensation.
- Warts and All: Ray Charles was given a braille copy of the script to read before production began, and he only objected to two scenes: the original draft had him being forced to learn piano (he expressed an interest on his own) and had him sharing drugs with Margie Hendricks (he refused to let her try heroin because he knew what it was doing to him). Other than that, the script was unchanged and included his ruthless business dealings, adultery, and struggles with addiction.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Bea gives Ray one when he continues his drug binges even after getting arrested several times, and tells him that if he won't stop, he'll lose the one thing that matters most to him: his music.
- Your Cheating Heart: Ray is pretty unabashed about his affairs with his background singers, even writing a song about one of them (Mary Ann Fisher.) The second, Margie Hendricks of the Raelettes, picks up on this almost immediately ("Does that mean we have to let Ray?") However, she falls for him to the point of wanting him to leave his wife Della Bea upon the revelation that she's carrying Ray's child. Even Bea herself seems almost permissive of the whole thing. (Of course, this may just be because he has more destructive vices for her to contend with.)