When news of Chadwick Boseman’s death was announced back in August, the world grieved the loss of a true artist. This loss was made more apparent with his final role in Netflix’s original film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, starring Viola Davis and produced by Denzel Washington.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a film adaptation of August Wilson‘s 1980 stage play of the same name. The story focuses on a fictional recording session in 1927 with legendary blues singer Ma Rainey (Davis) and her band in Chicago. Boseman plays the talented but arrogant trumpeter Levee Green.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom | Official Trailer | Netflix
The film isn’t about Rainey’s life, but more about the inner turmoil amongst the band as a collective and as individuals during this session. Boseman’s portrayal of Levee shows a young man with supreme confidence in his ability. His rebellious spirit and cynical attitude towards life reveal a man who has endured a great deal of pain.
Levee’s bandmates (Played by Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, and Michael Potts) jeer at his views and bold declarations of being a big star. The jeers often turn into reminders to Levee that this is still Ma’s band. Green takes exception to Ma and the band’s attempts at humbling him and feels that his way of playing music is the future of blues.
Viola Davis’ work as Rainey appears effortless. Her performance captures Rainey’s larger-than-life persona without making a mockery of her legacy. Her rivalry with Boseman’s character shows how well both actors fed off one another when highlighting their character’s conflict.
Though they have opposing opinions, Levee and Ma couldn’t be more alike. Their temperaments are derived from a lifetime of discomfort, so they are unapologetic in wanting things to work in their favor.
Boseman is undoubtedly the centerpiece of the film. He has the responsibility of conveying complicated emotions with lengthy dialogue. He seamlessly transitions from a passionate musician with a zest for life to a tormented Black man looking to prove himself to anyone who doubts him.
Given the time in which the story takes place, the issue of race isn’t as pronounced as some would assume it would be. The two white characters find themselves at Ma’s mercy, doing everything to make her happy. However, conversations between the Black characters make it apparent that their fame doesn’t make them immune to racism.
With a run time of 1 hour and 34 minutes, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is subtle, yet bold. The cast of seasoned veterans conveys genuine emotion without overacting. Boseman’s presentation will make viewers emotional.
Despite battling colon cancer during filming, he delivers a stellar performance as only he could. If this was going to be his final song, he went out on a high note.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is now streaming on Netflix.
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