Sadly, 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' is Chadwick Boseman's final film.
It's sad for so many reasons.
Boseman was loved, both on screen and off, by people worldwide. In this blog post, because of Boseman's huge impact on people all around the world, I decided to take a look back at his career and also review his final performance on film.
Off screen, he was admired and applauded for his philanthropic efforts. Despite waging his own personal battle with colon cancer, he still found time to help and encourage others.
On screen, he starred in a number of box office hits, which endeared him to fans, such as his 2013 breakout role portraying the legendary Jackie Robinson in '42'. About a year and a half later, he followed that up with his role as James Brown in the biopic 'Get On Up'. In 2016, his star started shining even brighter when he hit the big screen as the African superhero “Black Panther,” also known as “T’Challa,” in 'Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War'.
Yet, with all of this success to his credit, Boseman was still just getting started. He also starred as Thurgood Marshall in 'Marshall,' released in October 2017, as well as 2019's '21 Bridges,' in which he starred and co-produced. His film credits include a number of other projects as well, including 'Draft Day,' starring Kevin Costner, and Spike Lee's 'Da 5 Bloods', which was released on Netflix earlier this year.
No one outside of Boseman's inner circle knew he was fighting colon cancer before his death was announced August 28th on his official Twitter account. As a number of industry observers have pointed out, Boseman gave many of his outstanding performances while being treated for cancer. One of those performances is his role as Levee in 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom'.
Levee is an ambitious trumpeter whose driving force is to start his own band, performing more contemporary music, which he believes the public is craving. Ma prefers to stick to her brand of the blues, refusing to budge even a little. The two butt heads over that, as well as over Levee's interest in Ma's girlfriend, Dussie Mae.
Boseman's portrayal of Levee is nothing short of captivating. Even though, we know now, that he was dying from cancer, he gave every ounce of himself to that role. His performance was full of life and he didn't hold anything back. The sadness I experienced after watching him in this role came from knowing that it was his last.
Boseman stars alongside Academy Award-winning actress Viola Davis, who took on the role of Ma, and slayed it. Unless you know it's her (which you're probably aware of by now because of all the advance publicity), she's almost unrecognizable. Davis is transformed into a look that so closely resembles Ma that it's uncanny, and on top of that, she's so immersed in the role that it feels like you're actually watching Ma Rainey herself. Ma was fiery, headstrong and very opinionated. As Ma, Davis is mesmerizing. Ma wasn't afraid to take on the members of her band if she disagreed with them, her manager or the head of her record label. And Davis, who is one of the best there is in her profession, is a master at conveying her character's feelings, both on the surface and underneath. Ask any actor or acting teacher and they'll tell you that the ability to do that is anything but easy.
Rounding out the talented ensemble cast are Colman Domingo, Michael Potts, Jonny Coyne, Taylour Paige, Jeremy Shamos, Dusan Brown, Joshua Harto and Glynn Turman, in one of the best roles of his career.
For all of these reasons and more, including a captivating story that was adapted from two-time Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson's play, 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' is not to be missed.
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Critics Choice Association
African American Film Critics Association
National Association of Black Journalists