Did Levee Kill Toledo in Real Life? What to Know About the Plot Twist

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At the end of the play and the film, Levee, an ambitious trumpeter in Ma’s band, gets a lowball offer for his songs from the same white producer who promised to help his career. And when Toledo, the band’s pianist, accidentally steps on his new yellow shoes, the broken-down Levee flies into a rage and fatally stabs Toledo.

“The subtext is clear, however: frustrated and broken from a system of racial inequality, Levee desperately lashes out at someone more vulnerable than himself,” observes ScreenRant’s Sarah Bea Milner. “Because the young trumpet player is powerless to direct his anger at those who deserve it, the white men who persecute and exploit Black Americans. … One can’t help but feel sorry for Levee, who more than anything is a victim of regular, systemic oppression because of the color of his skin.”

And Los Angeles Times critic Justin Chang calls the climax “haunting beyond words” in an interview with NPR. “Levee doesn’t have Ma Rainey’s experience or her knack for self-preservation, and the weight of his past trauma ultimately proves too much to overcome,” he adds. “We’re seeing a man peering into an abyss played by an actor who knew his own life was slipping away. Chadwick Boseman’s last moments on the screen are among his darkest and also his finest.”

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