The first images from Chadwick Boseman’s final film have been released.
The film adapts August Wilson’s 1984 play of the same name, focusing on Ma Rainey, a Southern singer (Davis), and her trumpeter Levee (Boseman) as they navigate the music industry in 1920’s Chicago.
On working with Boseman, Denzel Washington, who produced the film, told the New York Times: “He did a brilliant job, and he’s gone. I still can’t believe it.”
Davis went on to describe Boseman as “the ultimate collaborator”. She said: “A lot of actors mistake their presence for the event. 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.”
Boseman kept his diagnosis private, which meant that many of his collaborators and colleagues weren’t aware of his illness while working.
“I’m looking back at how tired he always seemed,” Davis began. “I look at his beautiful, unbelievable team that was meditating over him and massaging him, and I now realise everything they were trying to infuse in him to keep him going and working at his optimal level. And he received it.”
She continued: “I think a lot of times, people look at someone’s life backwards. 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.”
Davis added: “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 will be released on Netflix on December 18.