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The best movies to stream right now

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom | Official Trailer | Netflix

“Life can change in the blink of an eye” is one of those clichés that sounds more hyperbolic than it really is. While it may seem dramatic to suggest that actual milliseconds can radically alter the trajectory of a person’s existence, the daunting fact remains that life is delicate and fickle. The late playwright August Wilson explored as much in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, in which one man’s trauma and hubris leads to a tremendous, lightning-quick fall from grace. At its core, Wilson’s 1982 play is a tragic allegory about the extremely tenuous nature of the Black American Dream, and how, for too many in this country, prosperity comes down not just to hard work but also righting larger wrongs and overcoming systematic roadblocks. To that end, an ostensibly minor setback can be catastrophic for someone reliant on sweeping success for basic survival—a reality Wilson explores through the figure of Levee, a young, ambitious trumpeter who, over the span of mere hours, loses everything: his job, his love interest, and, via creative theft, much more. Ma Rainey’s is the ballad of a promising talent whose rising star is unceremoniously dimmed. That aspect takes on fresh significance—a uniquely cruel irony—in George C. Wolfe’s new adaptation. After all, Levee is played by Chadwick Boseman, in his final screen role. The film has more than its share of toast-worthy elements, from its sharp ensemble to its dutiful nods to 1920s Chicago and Old Hollywood, courtesy of Tobias A. Schliessler’s illuminating cinematography. But the appearance of the actor, in one last tremendous star performance, only enhances the material’s tragic power. [Shannon Miller]

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