Directed by George C. Wolfe and set in 1927 Chicago, the film stars Boseman as a determined trumpet player named Levee and Viola Davis as the real-life singer and “Mother of the Blues” Ma Rainey.
“He did a brilliant job, and he’s gone,” Washington said. “I still can’t believe it.”
“A lot of actors mistake their presence for the event,” Davis told the paper. “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.”
Davis revealed that she had no idea Boseman was ill and that he was consistently filming movies amid chemotherapy and surgeries. “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.”
Davis also knows that the story of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom will take on new meaning in the wake of Boseman’s death, especially with what his character goes through in the movie.
“I think a lot of times, people look at someone’s life backwards,” she said. “Now we have the unfortunate knowledge that Chadwick succumbed to cancer at 43, but really, Levee represents so many Black men living in America. What we’re constantly navigating on a day-to-day basis is the trauma of our past — we’re trying to heal from it, we’re even trying to understand that it’s there, and we’re negotiating that with our dreams and who we want to become… Now we know that the role mirrors Chadwick’s life, but if that were omitted, it still mirrors his life in a way. Because it mirrors the life of every Black person grieving, and especially the life of a Black man.”
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom premieres Dec. 18 on Netflix. See more first-look photos.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom