Netflix mourns Chadwick Boseman as it prepares to release his awards contender, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
With the sudden death of 43-year-old actor Chadwick Boseman on Friday comes many questions and realizations, including that his seemingly final film will be Netflix's upcoming Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.
Produced by Denzel Washington, the adaptation of August Wilson's acclaimed 1982 play of the same name (that was part of the playwright's 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle) is slated to be a significant awards-season release for the streamer.
As Netflix prepares to debut the movie later this year, co-CEO Ted Sarandos said in a statement to EW: "Chadwick was a superhero on screen and in life, and it’s impossible to imagine working at the level he has while valiantly battling his illness. His legacy as a person and an artist will inspire millions. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family during this difficult time."
Netflix also paid tribute to Boseman by tweeting out a short clip from Da 5 Bloods, another film of his that was released on the streaming service this year.
Set in 1920s Chicago, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom depicts four band members in a recording studio waiting for blues singer Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) to show up and record new music, appeasing two white producers who are also in attendance. Boseman plays the central role of Levee, a troubled young trumpeter who carries ambitions of leading his own band one day.
The film adaptation was written by Ruben Santiago-Hudson and directed by George C. Wolfe. While Davis plays the titular role, Boseman's role is equally crucial in the story. Much of it hinges on Levee's arc, playing off his interactions with his fellow bandmates (played in the movie by Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, and Michael Potts).
Among other former collaborators, Davis posted a message in tribute to the actor via Twitter late Friday night after his passing: "Chadwick.....no words to express my devastation of losing you. Your talent, your spirit, your heart, your authenticity........It was an honor working beside you, getting to know you," she wrote in part.
Expected to bow later this year, the project has long been tipped to vault Boseman into contention for his first Oscar nomination. Indeed, the Broadway production of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play, and Fences — the first film adaptation of one of Wilson's plays — earned both of its stars, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, Oscar nominations, with the latter winning in the Best Supporting Actress category.
Time will tell what the Academy makes of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, but it is hard not to highlight how Boseman has now ended a career of paying homage to Black icons gone too soon in a film that further honors the work of the late Wilson, who himself died at only 60 years old.