NEW YORK (AP) – Netflix previewed George C. Wolfe’s August Wilson adaptation “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” Monday, showing Chadwick Boseman’s final performance opposite Viola Davis’s powerful blues singer.
The film, shot last year, was already one of the most anticipated of the year, coming as the next chapter in Denzel Washington’s ongoing project to turn Wilson’s plays into films, following 2016’s Oscar-winning ‘Fences’. But since the unexpected death of 43-year-old Boseman from colon cancer in August, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” has taken on an elegiac appearance. Boseman’s performance is said to be one of the best of his career, and the scenes were shown on Monday. only reinforced that idea.
Set in Chicago in 1927, Davis stars as Ma Rainey, an ardent singer known as the “Mother of the Blues”. Boseman plays Levee, an aspiring trumpet player who wants to launch himself with his own updated versions of Ma Rainey’s songs.
“Levee must be Levee!” Boseman exclaims, as Levee, in a passionate monologue. ‘And he doesn’t need anyone to mess with him about the white guy, because you don’t know about me. You don’t know Levee. You don’t know what blood I have! What kind of heart I’m beaten here! “
The event Monday, presented by video conference, included a band, in masks, performing music from the movie scored by Branford Marsalis. Netflix, which will debut on the streaming service on December 18, is expected to push “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” for consideration at the Academy Awards, especially Davis and Boseman. (Wilson himself was the last person to receive a posthumous Oscar nomination for the ‘Fences’ script in 2016, 11 years after his death.)
Wolfe said Boseman “put his entire being into the role.” Davis described Boseman as unusually selfless. At the time of filming, Boseman came out of the massive success of “Avengers: Endgame” and “Black Panther.”
“Not to compete with Chadwick’s mom, but Chadwick is my baby,” said Davis, who played Boseman’s mom in the James Brown biopic “Get on Up”. Chadwick was just an artist. That’s just who he was. “
“He loved it. He demanded it. He demanded it in every way,” added Davis, who like most was unaware of Boseman’s illness during the shoot. “For someone so young, it was unbelievable. to see that your presence was not mistaken for the event. “
Davis, who won an Oscar for her performance in “Fences” and a Tony for the Broadway revival of the play in 2010, plays Ma Rainey as an impressive hip-wielding diva who she said was modeled after her aunt.
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” was the first play Wilson wrote in 1984, and the only one of this ten-part Century Cycle not set in Pittsburgh. Washington has said he wants to adapt the other eight plays in a deal that moved to Netflix after first joining HBO.
‘August makes us talk like people of color. Other people look at it and say, “Why do they keep going?” My whole thing is why not? Davis said. We have a lot to say, and we have a muzzle on us or so long. “
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP