Netflix has delayed a virtual preview event that had been scheduled for Monday for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” following the tragic death on Friday of Chadwick Boseman, who co-stars in the movie alongside Viola Davis and Colman Domingo.
Boseman died Friday of colon cancer, a diagnosis that he kept entirely private, which magnified the shock of his passing at the age of 43. Boseman was a major rising star who broke screen barriers for Black actors in 2018 with his lead role in the Marvel superhero movie “Black Panther.”
The acclaimed August Wilson play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” set in the late 1920s around the pioneering “queen of the blues” (played by Davis) and her band members, is destined to be one of Boseman’s last screen performances.
He plays Levee, a talented but troubled trumpet player who has an eye for Rainey’s girlfriend and is determined to stake his own claim on the music industry. Directed by George C. Wolfe, the Netflix adaptation of Wilson’s work is produced by Denzel Washington and Escape Artists.
“We are heartbroken over today’s news of the passing of Chadwick Boseman, a ‘true fighter’ as his family called him in their poignant tribute,” Netflix said in a statement. “This is an incredible loss. We are canceling Monday’s preview event of ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.’ Please join us in sending your thoughts to his family and loved ones.”
Ted Sarandos, Netflix co-CEO and chief content officer, hailed Boseman as “a superhero on screen and in life” and marveled at his work ethic.
“It’s impossible to imagine working at the level he has while valiantly battling his illness. His legacy as a person and an artist will inspire millions. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family during this difficult time,” Sarandos said in a statement.
In a tweet Davis said, “Chadwick…no words to express my devastation of losing you. Your talent, your spirit, your heart, your authenticity…It was an honor working beside you, getting to know you….Rest well prince…May flights of angels sing thee to thy heavenly rest. I love you!”
Washington offered words of sympathy as well in a statement. “He was a gentle soul and a brilliant artist who will stay with us for eternity through his iconic performances over his short yet illustrious career. God bless Chadwick Boseman,” he said.
Boseman had not been scheduled to appear at Monday’s event. Wolfe and Davis were to have participated in a Q&A to celebrate the movie and the life and work of Wilson. The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, who died in 2005 at age 60, is known for such works as “Fences” and “The Piano Lesson” that were highly praised as honest and sensitive portrayals of Black life in America in the 20th century.
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” had been scheduled for release later this year. Filming had been completed for Boseman, according to the actor’s family. There was no immediate word from Netflix about whether Boseman’s death would impact its plans for the release.
Glynn Turman and Michael Potts also star in “Ma Rainey.” Constanza Romero is executive producer. Academy Award winner Ann Roth is the costume designer and Branford Marsalis is the film’s composer.
The play won the 1985 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best American Play. The story revolves around Rainey’s efforts to make a record at studio in Chicago in 1927. The drama heightens as tensions boil between the singer, her white agent and producer and her bandmates.