Chadwick Boseman continued to work despite his cancer diagnosis in 2016, leaving us with the gift of a great cinematic legacy. While we continue to mourn his loss, at least we have one more film from him to look forward to. Netflix just released the first images from his final screen appearance.
Although he’ll always be best known for his role as T’Challa in the Marvel Universe, Boseman wasn’t just a comic book actor. His filmography included three major historical biopics:
Will his final film be another biopic? Or maybe a crime drama like 21 Bridges? Netflix’s official description doesn’t really tell audiences what to expect.
Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman star in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, a new film based on August Wilson’s award-winning play from director George C. Wolfe and producer Denzel Washington.
That’s some serious talent! But audiences might not be familiar with the play, and the images released by Netflix don’t offer that many clues. There’s Viola Davis looking fantastic in a flapper dress, a bunch of men in old-fashioned suits playing instruments, and a provocative shot of Davis on-stage surrounded by scantily clad dancers. So what’s this thing actually about?
August Wilson wrote a series of plays referred to as the Pittsburgh Cycle, which focuses primarily on the Black experience throughout different time periods in the same part of the country.
“I think my plays offer (white Americans) a different way to look at black Americans,” he once told The Paris Review of his work.
In Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Boseman conquers another story inspired by real events. Set in the 1920s, August Wilson’s play follows blues singer Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) as she records an album.
The “Mother of the Blues” is under pressure by the white studio executives to deliver another hit record. Meanwhile, the young trumpet player Levee (Boseman) wants to further his own career by bringing Ma Rainey’s sound into the Jazz Age.
Ma Rainey was a real person who began her career in vaudeville and went on to record more than a hundred blues and jazz recordings. August Wilson’s play is a fictionalized account of her career. It connects the racism and exploitation of Black recording artists in the early 20th century with similar issues in the modern day.
Denzel Washington seems to be passionate about bringing August Wilson’s work to the big screen. He starred in the 2016 adaptation of Fences, alongside Viola Davis, earning him Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for Best Actor.
Washington had previously won a Tony Award for Fences in 2010. Will Washington continue to adapt Wilson’s award-winning Pittsburg Cycle? There are 8 plays left, including The Piano Lesson.
Sadly, whatever plans Washington might have for August Wilson’s work, they won’t include Chadwick Boseman. The actor’s death at the age of 43 was a shock to everyone except his closest friends and family.
“He did a brilliant job, and he’s gone,” Washington said of Boseman’s performance. “I still can’t believe it.”
Co-star Viola Davis also praised Boseman, saying, “He could completely discard whatever ego he had, whatever vanity he had, and welcome Levee in.”
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom will be available on Netflix beginning December 18.