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'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' Ends With Short, Sweet Chadwick Boseman Tribute

“In celebration of his artistry and heart.”

In a sweet and simple gesture, director George C. Wolfe dedicated his new film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom—which began streaming on Netflix today—to the late star, Chadwick Boseman.

At the very end of the movie—after a credits montage of photos of the real-life 1920s blues singer Ma Rainey, but before the rest of the credits begin—a simple title card of white text on black reads: “Dedicated to Chadwick Boseman, in celebration of his artistry and heart.”

Filmed over the summer of 2019, Ma Rainey marks the final performance for Boseman, who died of colon cancer in August 2020, after keeping his diagnosis a secret for four years. And what a final performance it is. Boseman is transformative in the role of Levee, a character written by August Wilson in his 1982 play, adapted for Netflix by screenwriter Ruben Santiago-Hudson.

Chadwick Boseman dedication in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Photo: Netflix

As the youngest and cockiest member of the band backing vocalist Ma Rainey (played by the brilliant Viola Davis), Levee has big dreams for his future. Against Ma’s will, he writes a new intro to one of her songs to give himself an upbeat trumpet solo. More egregiously, he makes a move on Ma’s girlfriend, Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige). Eventually, he lets his anger take over completely, and commits an act of unspeakable violence.

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020): (L to R) Chadwick Boseman as Levee, Glynn Turman as Toldeo, Michael Potts as Slow Drag, Colman Domingo as Cutler.
Photo: David Lee/Netflix

It’s a complete 180 from the regal, level-headed leader of Wakanda for which Boseman is so well-known. It only makes Ma Rainey all the more tragic—Boseman’s incredible versatility speaks to how many more earth-shaking performance the actor would have delivered, had he been given the chance. As it was, he made the most of the time he had, and, according to his co-star Glynn Turman—who plays the band pianist, Toledo—he never once expected special treatment, for his illness or for his status as a star. “He didn’t have to be coddled because he was a superstar,” Turman told Decider in a previous interview. “He wasn’t about that.”

In fact, Boseman committed himself entirely to the film’s physically demanding climax. “The physicality was what was amazing — how physically committed he was to doing take after take in such a strenuous scene,” Turman said. “He was giving it all he had.”

Watch Ma Rainey's Black Bottom on Netflix

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