Chadwick Boseman’s final movie — which he filmed a year before his untimely death this summer — is Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, in which he plays an ambitious trumpeter to Viola Davis’ pioneering blues singer. Based on August Wilson’s award-winning 1984 stage play, it premieres Dec. 18 on Netflix.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is set in 1927 Chicago, centering on the tension and conflict between Rainey and the white ownership of the clubs where she performed. Boseman’s character is Levee, who is fictitious, but Rainey was one of the first Black professional blues singers, and also one of the first blues artists to record her performances. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” was one of her hit recordings, written for a dance by the same name.
Boseman, best known for his portrayal of Black Panther in four Marvel Cinematic Universe films, died Aug. 28; he had stage IV colon cancer and had kept his treatment out of public view, making his death at age 43 shocking news. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was filmed in July and August 2019 in Pittsburgh. The story is the second of 10 plays in Wilson’s “Pittsburgh Cycle,” nine of which are set in that city, with the other — Ma Rainey’s — in Chicago. The series explores the Black American experience of the 20th century in multiple decades.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was nominated for Best Play at the 1985 Tonys. Boseman’s role, Levee, was the Broadway debut for Charles S. Dutton, who earned a Tony nomination for his performance. August Wilson won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Fences, the third play in the Pittsburgh Cycle.
The Netflix adaptation is directed by George C. Wolfe and stars Davis, Boseman, Colman Domingo, Michael Potts, Glynn Turman, Dusan Brown, and Taylour Paige.