WHEN I learned recently that Boseman was posthumously awarded Best Actor by the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts for his role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, I vowed to watch it for two reasons: first, because he was an astonishingly good performer with a crop of awards to to his name, and second because I am a lifelong blues and jazz fan.
But it wasn’t until last night that I got to see Boseman’s last movie (he died of colon cancer last year aged 43) and was utterly mesmerised by a scene in which his character, a young jazz trumpeter called Levee, curses God for allowing his mother to be attacked and raped by a gang of white thugs when he was a kid.
After the credits rolled I said to my husband “Christians will hate this film, and I shouldn’t be in the least surprised if some are saying that God had taken revenge on the talented actor and writer for taking on role in which his character, with spittle flying from his lips, viciously attacks religion.”
In the gut-wrenching scene Levee asks:
Where the hell was God when all this was going on. God ain’t never gonna listen to no n*****’s prayers. God takes a n*****’s prayers and throws them in the garbage.
When I Googled “Christian reaction to Boseman’s final film,” beneath this headline “Netflix’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is Very Blasphemous (What Killed Chadwick Boseman)” I found this:
Despite Levee (Chadwick’s character in the movie) being a psycho after traumatic events in his life, to me, it’s the bold blasphemy and hate of God and Jesus in the script that the character spews out …
Now I’m very religious and I think the reason why our favorite (Chadwick Boseman) passed away might be because he agreed to play a God mocking character. … I think the writers might have gone to the extreme with this portrayal. They must be atheist or haters of God.
Yes, the blasphemy to God in the movie is through the roof. The performances in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom were so strong but when it came to Levee’s scenes, I had to look away whenever he blamed God. Not only did he blame but also insulted the Most High Out Loud!!! without an ounce of guilt! I couldn’t bring myself to look at the screen.
The writer added:
God is not to be mocked. I’ve come across a story two times on Facebook about famous people who mocked God and died on their vomit or something … and I believe there’s no way Chadwick would’ve been so proud of Levee in this movie.
The movie is too bitter for any Christian’s taste. I would praise the acting but damn, even in 1927, that sort of blasphemy was a reach considering black people believed in God until the late 90s at least when they turned atheist.
Next port of call was the faith-based film review site, MovieGuide, which, to my surprise, was less harsh on the movie than I thought it would be. In fact the bisexuality of the famous blues singer Gertrude “Ma” Rainey offended them more than Boseman’s rant.
The biggest problem MovieGuide had with the film was”foul language”:
At least 81 obscenities (including a few “f” words), two strong profanities, five light profanities, 42 uses of the “n” word in slang dialogue as black men refer to one another, four instances of a slang term used to describe white people by a black man, and two instances of slang used to describe a woman’s private part.
I get the feeling that the reviewer so busy counting “fucks” and n****s she/he entirely missed the “blasphemous” content.
Oh, and for the record, Boseman was not one of those “black people who turned atheist.” He was a practicing Baptist.
That a Christian actor can play an angry atheist with consummate skill and convincing passion should be an object lesson to Seyi Omooba, above.
The UK actor and devout Christian refused to play a lesbian character in a stage version of The Color Purple because of her homophobia. She launched a high profile and very stupid lawsuit against her agent and a theatre, claiming religious discrimination – and spectacularly lost her case.
• Ma Rainey is streaming on Netflix.