See Chadwick Boseman's final performance in the just-released 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' trailer

Ethan Alter
·Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
·3 min read

When Chadwick Boseman passed away in August, he left behind a rich legacy of big-screen Black heroes... as well as one last performance. In the summer of 2019 — one year before his death from colon cancer — the actor filmed what became his final role in Netflix’s new drama, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, opposite Viola Davis. “I got my time coming to me,” Boseman remarks during the just-released first trailer for the film, which premieres on the streaming service on Dec. 18. Based on early predictions, his family mostly likely has a posthumous Oscar statue coming home to them. (Watch the trailer above.)

Davis — who plays the real-life “Mother of the Blues” — is obviously in the awards conversation as well for her star turn in the film, which has been adapted from August Wilson’s celebrated 1982 play by Tony-winning director George C. Wolfe and playwright, Ruben Santiago-Hudson. (Denzel Washington is involved as a producer, having previously directed the 2016 film version of Wilson’s play, Fences, that won Davis her first Best Actress statue.) Set in 1920s-era Chicago, the story chronicles a tempestuous recording session during which Ma Rainey frequently butts heads with Boseman’s ambitious trumpet player, Levee. Unlike the rest of the backing band, Levee isn’t shy about expressing his frustration with the singer’s working methods or her brand of blues. “I know how’s to play real music, not this jug-band s***,” he tells his bandmates.

Chadwick Boseman, Colman Domingo, Viola Davis, Michael Potts and Glynn Turman in 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' (Photo: David Lee/Netflix)
Chadwick Boseman, Colman Domingo, Viola Davis, Michael Potts and Glynn Turman in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. (Photo: David Lee/Netflix)

Besides teasing the dramatic clash between acting titans Davis and Boseman, the trailer also suggests that Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom will feature timely commentary on the exploitation of Black artists, with both Levee and Ma Rainey fighting to control the direction of their careers in the face of recording industry indifference. We’re also awarded glimpses of several rumpus-raising musical sequences that appear to be in the tradition of Wolfe’s pioneering production numbers in Broadway blockbusters like Jelly’s Last Jam and Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk.

But it’s Boseman’s presence that’s understandably resonating the most on Twitter. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood — who directed this summer’s Netflix hit, The Old Guard — led the chorus of praise for the actor’s final bow.

Davis echoed the latter sentiment in a new interview with Deadline, where she spoke movingly about her collaboration with Boseman. “Not to compete with Chadwick’s mother, but he was my baby,” she said. “Chadwick was an artist. That is just what he was… he loved it, he demanded it in every single way. For someone so young it was incredible to watch.”

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom premieres Dec. 18 on Netflix.

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