Netflix recently dropped some first looks at its upcoming period drama Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the film that houses Chadwick Boseman’s last performance. His turn as Levee opposite Viola Davis’ Ma Rainey is already generating buzz about a posthumous Oscar nomination for the late actor. The film is adapted from August Wilson’s 1984 play of the same name and explores racial tensions in 1920s Chicago through the story of Ma, her horn player Levee (Boseman), and her white management team. Davis shared during an interview with The New York Times how it was intimidating to take on the titular role as the trailblazing musician known as the “Mother of the Blues,” but she was able to get into character, as well as appreciate Boseman’s own performance. “An actor of Chadwick’s status usually comes on and it’s their ego who comes on before them: This is what they want, this is what they’re not going to do,” Davis noted. “That was absolutely, 150 percent off the table with Chadwick. He could completely discard whatever ego he had, whatever vanity he had, and welcome Levee in.”
And the character of Levee is far from Boseman’s role as T’Challa in Black Panther, the film that made him a household name. In Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the actor plays an ambitious trumpeter determined to launch his own career by putting a new spin on Ma’s outdated songs. At some points along the way, he’s seducing Ma’s girlfriend; other times he can be seen raging at God. And Boseman rose to the occasion of delivering the richly complex character of Levee. Denzel Washington, who served as a producer on the film, praised the actor’s skills, stating, “he did a brilliant job.” The film’s director, George C. Wolfe, also had positive things to share about the experience of getting to work with Boseman. “Every day, we all got to witness the ferocity of his talent and the gentleness of his heart,” Wolfe recalled. “[He was] a truly blessed, loving, gifted, and giving human being.”
After Boseman died on August 28, Netflix delayed a virtual preview of the project, which is slated to release on December 18. Davis added during her New York Times interview that she didn’t know about Boseman’s private battle with colon cancer while they filmed Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. “I look at his beautiful, unbelievable team that was meditating over him and massaging him, and I now realize everything they were trying to infuse in him to keep him going and working at his optimal level,” Davis shared. “And he received it.” Even in the midst of his ongoing health issues, Boseman turned out a final screen performance that is likely to garner him an Oscar nomination, according to Variety. But regardless of any posthumous accolades awarded him, the actor’s talent will continue to inspire. From his breakthrough role as Jackie Robinson in 42 to his star-making turn as Black Panther to his most recent and final role as Levee, Boseman’s groundbreaking work will continue to live on.