This was supposed to be Chadwick Boseman’s night.
After surviving most of the awards season, Boseman was a favorite to win at Sunday’s Academy Awards. He would win for his memorable career, for the signature roles we’ll never see, and for the character “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which included everything he’d done so well in a cocky, complicated cornet player.
The Oscars, which are usually the last to announce their grand prize – best picture – even seemed to predict a Boseman win by making the best actor award the finale. (Fun fact: the Academy of the Arts and Sciences for Feature Films has ended with the best picture every year since 1948, apart from 1972 when Charlie Chaplin closed the night with an honorary award.) Why shouldn’t the Oscars end their show for everyone to honor? that the beloved actor was too young in his career before his death last August at the age of 43 after a long battle with colon cancer?
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But no. Anthony Hopkins, who did an exceptional job on “The Father”, won. (And he wasn’t there to accept, bringing an already strange ceremony to an idiot of disappointment.) Hopkins’ performance was worthy of an Oscar, perhaps every other year. Here’s the thing: we’re going to see this Hollywood legend again. The same cannot be said of Boseman.
We didn’t have him for very long, although what Boseman did in less than a decade was an amazing, one-of-a-kind achievement that the academy could celebrate but sniffed disappointingly. He embodied a trio of black icons and never imitated them: Boseman made us feel the hatred and racism that Jackie Robinson (2013 “42”), the first black player in Major League Baseball, was exposed to; He caused excitement while singing and dancing as James Brown (2014 “Get On Up”), the godfather of the soul itself; and he accepted the young lawyer Thurgood Marshall’s (“Marshall” from 2017) civil rights crusade before becoming a Supreme Court Justice.
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These roles put him on the map. And then Boseman became a Hollywood superhero who brought African culture to the masses while also being a touchstone for the black community. He has appeared in four Marvel films, most notably in the nominee for Best Picture and the global phenomenon “Black Panther”. With his nuanced and passionate portrayal of an African ruler and protector who navigated through personal turbulence under extraordinary circumstances, Boseman captured hearts and minds all over the world and greeted the “Wakanda forever!”
He also made everything better with his presence. Boseman brought the necessary depth to the soccer film “Draft Day” in which he played a fiery NFL perspective. He saw the cop thriller “21 Bridges” pretty much on his own. And in Spike Lee’s war movie “Da 5 Bloods” last year, his squad leader from the Vietnam era wasn’t on the screen that oftena charismatic, haunting presence.
His otherHowever, the 2020 role turned out to be an impressive highlight. Boseman’s Mississippi-born session musician Levee was a fashionable, self-centered slide for Viola Davis’ powerful title blues singer in the 1920s set “Ma Rainey,” an adaptation of the August Wilson piece. Levee wanted to play their songs his way, to make songs for his own band and tried to get in touch with white music producers to make this possible.
Levee is seen as the kind of guy who rips his bandmates (and doesn’t enjoy it when they get him back), but with a monologue, Boseman makes Levee a really complex man as he delves into his own backstory where he witnessed the rape his mother is supported by white men as a child and his father’s mission is vengeance. It’s a scorching, dynamic scene that is only matched by the movie’s tragic finale – another scene that brings out the best in Boseman.
If all of this wasn’t Oscar-worthy enough, the South Carolina native was more than just a great actor. He showed excellence on-screen and how to be a good, humble, off-screen man with a dazzling smile, while understanding and respecting the influence he was exerting. Boseman told USA TODAY in 2016 that when he was cast in Captain America: Civil War, “the first thing I thought about” were young children trying to dress up as Black Panthers – an idea that was being done in a global way came true.
And Boseman’s commitment to his characters wasn’t in the charts. When this reporter visited the Atlanta set of “Black Panther” three years ago, he spoke to King T’Challa: Boseman never broke his Wakandan accent, even when speaking to an annoying nosy journalist. Oscar or no, that memory and grace won’t go away.
The fact that he was also dealing with cancer at the time after being diagnosed in 2016, and played Black Panther and his other indelible characters for years, is incredible, save for the fact that we all watched him closely . We won’t see his art again, but there is always his work – somehow missing an Oscar – for generations to study and celebrate.
It would have been a poignant moment, but he didn’t need an Oscar to influence an industry and culture that missed his presence. He will always be in our hearts.
In other words, to borrow a phrase: Chadwick forever.