Chadwick Boseman’s Final Performance Is Gut-Wrenching


There are performances—soul-stirring, thought-provoking, emotion-filled performances—that come along so seldom they force viewers to pause and marvel when they arrive. That happens in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the newly released Netflix film starring Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis that delivers equal parts heartbreak, hope, and history through a small but mighty roster of talented Black entertainers.

Adapted from playwright August Wilson’s Broadway play of the same name, the movie version of Rainey’s real-life story bills Davis in the role of Ma and Boseman as Levee, an ambitious trumpeter with a buoyant personality and repressive demons. Both bring out their very best acting chops to tell the story of a recording session gone awry in a 1920s Chicago studio. The result: a tortured tale of what happens when sheer passion meets pushback and roadblocks appear too large to overcome.

It’s hard to watch Chadwick Boseman in his last role without recalling what we already know. The talented actor, known for playing the Black Panther and a number of historical heroes, passed away earlier this year at the age of just 43. And while Ma Rainey relies on a number of monologues from the band’s trombonist Cutler (Colman Domingo), bassist Slow Drag (Michael Potts), and pianist Toledo (Glynn Turman) to move the plot along, it is Boseman’s gut-wrenching moments onscreen that will be remembered far after the credits role.

Equally memorable is Davis’s embodiment of the Mother of the Blues. Her convincing depiction of the 1920s entertainer—one whose talent is unrivaled, but whose worthiness in a white-male-run industry appears unclear—conjures up modern-day feelings of inequity. “[Black people] got a right to be dissatisfied,” Boseman says in a paramount scene. “Is you gonna be satisfied with a bone somebody done throwed you when you done seen them eating a whole hog?” This is the question Ma must ask herself, a question that the band must reflect on as well, and a query that ties the characters together.

David Lee/NETFLIX



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