Film

Afro-Latino Screenwriter Ruben Santiago-Hudson Adapts Chadwick Boseman’s Final Film

Late actor Chadwick Boseman’s final film performance of his career will stream December 18 on Netflix. Boseman, best known for playing the titular superhero in Black Panther, died in late August after a four-year battle with colon cancer.

His last film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, was adapted for the screen by Afro-Latino writer and Tony Award-winning actor Ruben Santiago-Hudson from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by the late August Wilson. In 2017, Santiago-Hudson earned his second Tony nomination for directing another of Wilson’s plays, Jitney, on Broadway.

In Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Santiago-Hudson returns to the musical genre he loves to tell another story about rhythm and blues, this time set in 1920s Chicago. The film follows a group of musicians sitting in a rehearsal room with legendary blues singer Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), who gets into a “battle of wills” with her white manager and producer over her music. Boseman plays Levee, an ambitious trumpeter who also butts heads with the trailblazing performer.

“What is similar [between Jitney and Ma Rainey is] showing the wholeness of being Black, even if you have to show it onstage in quiet, private ways,” Santiago-Hudson told American Theatre late last year. “In Ma Rainey, when they’re in the rehearsal room, their wholeness comes out. Then, when they go down in the basement, their true Blackness comes out. The way they joke with each other, the anger, the pathos. We rarely get to see that.”

Santiago-Hudson’s first film was 2005’s Lackawanna Blues, based on his autobiographical one-man show set in 1960’s New York. The play featured Santiago-Hudson’s father, Puerto Rican railroad worker Ruben Santiago Sr., as a character. He was portrayed in the film version of Lackawanna Blues by Puerto Rican actor Jimmy Smits (In the Heights).