Chadwick Boseman should win the Oscar for this scene in Netflix’s ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ – Fast Company

Posted: December 19, 2020 at 10:55 am


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By KC Ifeanyi2 minute Read

Theres a scant history of posthumous Oscar winners, but Chadwick Bosemans performance in Netflixs Ma Raineys Black Bottom is a shoo-in for a nominationand could possibly clinch a win on the power of one scene alone.

Adapted from August Wilsons 1984 play, Ma Raineys Black Bottom stars Boseman as Levee, a hot-tempered trumpet player in legendary blues singer Ma Raineys band. A recording session is fraught with mounting friction as Levees volatility leads to a devastating incident.

Ma Raineys Black Bottom marks Bosemans final onscreen performance since he passed away from colon cancer in August. Watching his frenetic and searing portrait of a deeply troubled musician serves as a heartbreaking reminder of the magnitude of talent cinema lost.

While Boseman is magnetic throughout the film, theres one monologue in particular thats practically gilded with Oscar gold.

After Levee shows an exuberant amount of deference to the white recording studio owner, Levees bandmates playfully rib him on how he talks a big game but is spooked by the white man. As playful as they were with their jokes, Levees temperament rapidly darkens before exploding into a heart-wrenching story explaining his tortured relationship with white men. When he was just eight years old, a gang of white men broke into his home and raped his mother in the kitchen. What followed was a slow-burn revenge plot his father carried out against the perpetrators that brought some justice for the crimes but ultimately ended in his murder.

Boseman masterfully carries the scene with an intensity of barely contained rage, which is only magnified by the fact that its a five-minute monologue with little editing.

But, as screenwriter Ruben Santiago-Hudson explains, that scene almost turned out differently.

I wanted to keep it simple and just deal with Levee and his eyes and the eyes of the other men, Santiago-Hudson says.

However, he received notes to add more elements to the scene to break up the long shots.

They felt that in movies, you dont just sit on one character for three pages, he says.

He tried to incorporate more people in the scene or even just hands performing various actions relating to Levees story as sort of an abstract way to add more beats to the scene. But in the end, Santiago-Hudson pressed for his original idea to keep it as simple as possible, and thats what made the final cut.

I said, Trust it: the actor can do it. Augusts words can do it. [Director George C. Wolfes] direction can do it, Santiago-Hudson says. Im directing when Im writing. I dont tell George, You gotta use this camera or that lens. But Ill say, The camera begins to slowly creep in on Levees eyes. Occasionally well cut back to the other characters. You see how theyre absorbing the story. His rage grows. His eyes intensify.'

The most recent actor to earn an Oscar after his passing was Heath Ledger, who won as best supporting actor in 2008 for The Dark Knight. Boseman, who was undergoing surgeries and/or chemotherapy during filming, is equally deserving of the honor.

There was a transcendence about Chads performance, but there needed to be, said Viola Davis in an interview with The New York Times. This is a man whos raging at God, whos lost even his faith. So [Boseman has] got to sort of go to the edge of hope and death and life in order to make that character work. Of course, you look back on it and see that thats where he was.

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America," where he was the social media producer.

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Chadwick Boseman should win the Oscar for this scene in Netflix's 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' - Fast Company

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December 19th, 2020 at 10:55 am