Photo Courtesy: Instagram/@MaRaineyFilm
WARNING: Spoilers for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.
It was a bittersweet feeling watching the late Chadwick Boseman in his final role for the film Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, which is now streaming on Netflix. Boseman, who passed away in August after a private battle with colon cancer, puts you on an emotional rollercoaster that is only emboldened by the sad fact that we won't get the chance to see him in future works.
Ma Rainey is easily one of the best films of the year. Viola Davis, one of the greatest actresses of all time, is mesmerizing as the titular character, which is unlike any role I've ever seen her in. I'd pay for Netflix to allow her to explore the character of Ma throughout a series. However, due to the film's structure, though Davis is the star, Boseman does seem to get more dialogue, and quite frankly, he ends up stealing the show.
Set in 1920s Chicago, we see Ma Rainey's band get together for a recording session and discuss their futures in music while waiting for Ma to arrive. Boseman's character, the boastful trumpeter, Levee, wants all eyes on him from his music to his new, yellow shoes. His bandmates Toledo (Gylnn Turman), Cutler (Colman Domingo), and Slow Drag (Micahel Potts) are less than impressed with his cocky attitude. However, his brashness switches to vulnerability throughout the film as the audience learn more about his background.
Boseman gives the audience not one but two Oscar-worthy monologues, specifically one where he recalls the rape of his mother and the lynching of his father by White men. Some scenes can be hard to watch due to the nature of the topics, but it speaks to Chadwick's acting to make you feel the pain of a Black man living in 1920s America with a scarred childhood. His overall portrayal of a character as complex as Levee is not an easy feat, and it's not something I think just any actor can do. On a personal note, as a big fan, I'm also happy we got to hear him sing even just a little bit as Levee.
As the 2021 Oscar race begins to take shape, Chadwick may be a posthumous Oscar winner. Quite frankly, if he somehow doesn't get the nomination, I think I'll riot. Just know WHEN, not IF, Chadwick gets his Oscar nomination; it will be because he gave the performance of a lifetime and not just because he is sadly no longer with us.
I am grateful that we always get to have his talent on film. If the Academy doesn't do anything else, they should recognize the performance of a lifetime by someone who deserved to get a lot more of their flowers for his contributions while he was still alive.