Photo credit: Netflix
Chadwick Boseman delivered a raw and compelling performance that has already set off Oscar-buzz in the industry for his portrayal of Levee in the film adaptation of August Wilson’s Broadway play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (streaming on Netflix today, Dec. 18).
The iconic actor, lauded for his visceral portrayals of Jackie Robinson (42), James Brown (Get On Up), Thurgood Marshall (Marshall) and Marvel’s Black Panther (Black Panther), did not disappoint in his final role. He depicted the essence of Levee in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and, in the span of an hour and 34 minutes, brought to life the story of a passionate and ambitious trumpet player seeking to find a door of opportunity to showcase his talent in the early 1900s when Blacks were relegated to subservient roles.
Boseman joined forces with a stellar cast, including Viola Davis (Ma Rainey), Glynn Turman (Toledo), Colman Domingo (Cutler) and Taylour Paige (Dussie Mae), to share a snapshot of the real life story of Gertrude Pritchard (Ma Rainey) known as the Mother of the Blues.
In the back drop of her story, the film shares a powerful and sober depiction of the dashed hopes and dreams of Black musicians as they sought to navigate through a system of unscrupulous producers who sought to achieve fame and success on the backs of talented African-American performers who they saw as a means to an end.
Davis gives a raw and gritty portrayal of Ma Rainey, a blues singer who was one of the first Blacks to perform professionally and record in the industry as she defies the rules and expectations of music producers to carve out her own unique space. Set in Chicago in 1927, the film centers on tensions that rise when the trailblazing blues singer and her band gather at a music studio to record her first record.
Boseman depicts with perfection the fast-talking, confident persona of Levee as a gifted and ambitious trumpet player who is skilled in his own right and seeking to showcase his talent and shape his own destiny in the industry. The story is raw and true-to-life in its depiction of how Black musicians and singers were treated in the early 1900s, and beyond, as they attempted to showcase their talents.
The highlight of the film arrives when Boseman depicts his character, Levee’s pain in an explosive scene that raises the curtain on the trumpet player’s traumatic past and the weight of being a Black man in a world that counters his existence. It was Boseman at his best – passionate, raw, explosive, and masterful at his craft. And as he did throughout his career, he left no nuance or emotion unturned, and left every ounce of his talent on the stage to give us one last gift.
To say that audiences will miss Boseman and that he is ‘gone too soon’ are understatements that don’t adequately express the void left in his passing. But we will be forever grateful that he used his creative talent to the fullest and told stories with messages that will echo throughout time to inspire and uplift the human spirit. His devotion to his artistry and his courage will never be forgotten.
The film, adapted to screen by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, was directed by George Wolfe and produced by Denzel Washington, Todd Black, and Dany Wolf.