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Chadwick Boseman’s final on-screen performance in the film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was released on Netflix on December 18, giving fans one last glimpse of the beloved star. Directed by George C. Wolfe, it’s based on August Wilson’s 1982 play of the same name.

The movie explores a pressure cooker of a recording session with the volatile but gifted blues singer Ma Rainey, her jazz band, and some white recording execs during a steamy day in Chicago in 1927. 

Viola Davis portrays the legendary blues singer while Boseman plays her fiery horn player, Levee. Many people are insisting it’s Boseman’s greatest performance. 

The Chicago Sun-Times film critic Richard Roeper praised the film, writing, “This work stands on its own as the best of Boseman’s career and one of the most transcendent performances of the year.”

Viola Davis agrees. She observed Chadwick “absolutely give himself” to the role. “First of all, it’s an extraordinary performance with an extraordinary role,” Davis shared in a 60 Minutes interview. “I think it’s the greatest role for a young African man ever, only because it’s a character that comes full circle—the role of Levee in ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.’”

Boseman dedicated himself to learning to play the cornet, inspiring the rest of the band members to step up their game with their respective instruments. “Chadwick was playing all of the time. He had that going on in his hands at every moment,” said Glynn Tuman who portrays Toledo.

“He did all he could do with what he was given, and he left in here for us to enjoy,” Denzel Washington noted. As the producer of the film, Denzel watched Chadwick fully immerse himself in the role, although he was not aware of Boseman’s battle with cancer at the time. 

Colman Domingo, who portrays a trombone player named Cutler in the film, likewise didn’t know of Boseman’s medical troubles during the time of shooting—indeed, it appears nobody on set knew. But Domingo revealed that after filming one particularly hurtful but poignant scene between Levee and his character, and the director called cut, “immediately, without a thought, [Boseman and I] wrapped our arms around each other and we sobbed.”

Boseman suddenly passed away in August at the age of 43, leaving his multitude of fans and colleagues shocked that such a beloved, talented, and seemingly strong man was actually battling a deadly disease. Indeed, he’d been privately struggling with colon cancer since 2016, undergoing multiple surgeries and chemotherapy. In turn, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is dedicated to Boseman.

On a similar note, Marvel Studios announced that the Black Panther sequel, set to be released in the summer of 2022, will not recast Boseman’s iconic character, King T’Challa. “Chadwick Boseman was an immensely talented actor and an inspirational individual who affected all of our lives,” said Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige. “His portrayal of T’Challa the Black Panther is iconic and transcends any iteration of the character in any other medium from Marvel’s past. It’s for that reason we will not recast the character.” To keep the Black Panther storyline moving forward, Feige revealed, “We want to continue to explore the world of Wakanda and all of the rich and varied characters introduced in the first film.”