Film fans, 2020 has been terrible. However, if you can hold on till December you’ll be rewarded with the release of Netflix’s hotly anticipated film adaptation of August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. The first images from the film were featured in a New York Times profile written by former Vulture senior editor Kyle Buchanan on Wednesday. Produced by Denzel Washington and directed by George C. Wolfe, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom stars Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman in his final film performance.
Both Washington and Davis spoke with Buchanan about their experiences working with Boseman, who died in August at the age of 43 after a private four-year battle with colon cancer. “He did a brilliant job, and he’s gone,” said Denzel Washington. “I still can’t believe it.” Davis spoke of Boseman’s utter lack of vanity, despite starring in three of the highest-grossing films of all time, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame. “A lot of actors mistake their presence for the event,” Davis said. “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. 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.” She also touched upon how exhausted Boseman seemed and how his team supported him throughout filming without ever revealing his diagnosis. “I’m looking back at how tired he always seemed,” she said. “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. And he received it.”
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom stars the Academy Award–winning, foremost August Wilson interpreter Davis as the titular Ma Rainey, a Black singer dubbed the “Mother of Blues,” as she deals with white music-industry execs. Boseman plays her trumpet player Levee, who wants to put a contemporary spin on Ma Rainey’s songs. While the film has not been formerly reviewed yet, Buchanan referred to Boseman’s performance as “a revelation” and said that his turn as Levee is “practically assured of Oscar recognition,” going so far as to say “it is Boseman’s finest screen performance.” For an actor who was so consistently fantastic onscreen, that’s high praise. Check out the first stills from Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which hits Netflix on December 18, 2020.