TV & Movies

He deserved more: Why Chadwick Boseman’s posthumous Oscar loss stings so much

This was supposed to be Chadwick Boseman’s night.

After rolling through most of awards season, Boseman was a favorite to win at Sunday’s Academy Awards. He was supposed to win for the memorable career he had, for the signature roles we’ll never see, and for the “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” character that encompassed everything he did so well in one cocky, complicated cornet player.

The Oscars, which usually announces its top prize – Best Picture – last, even appeared to foretell a Boseman win by making the best actor award the finale. (Fun fact: The Academy has ended with best picture every year since 1948, aside from 1972 when Charlie Chaplin closed the night with an honorary award.) Why wouldn’t the Academy Awards finish its show honoring all that the beloved performer did in his career before his death last August, too young at 43 after a long battle with colon cancer?

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"Black Panther" star Chadwick Boseman arrives at the 91st Academy Awards. (Photo: ROBERT HANASHIRO/USA TODAY)

But no. Anthony Hopkins, who turned in an exceptional performance in “The Father,” won. (And he wasn’t there to accept, bringing an already strange ceremony to a clunker of an anticlimax.) Hopkins’ performance was worthy of an Oscar, perhaps in any other year. Here’s the thing: We’re going to see that Hollywood legend again. The same can’t be said of Boseman. 

We didn’t have him for very long, though what Boseman did over the course of less than a decade was an amazing, singular achievement that the Academy had a chance to celebrate but disappointingly whiffed. He embodied, and never imitated, a trio of Black icons: Boseman made us feel the hatred and racism faced by Jackie Robinson (2013’s “42”), the first Black player in Major League Baseball; he stirred up excitement singing and dancing as James Brown (2014’s “Get On Up”), the Godfather of Soul himself; and he embraced the civil-rights crusade of young lawyer Thurgood Marshall (2017’s “Marshall”) before he became a Supreme Court Justice.

Those roles put him on the map. And then Boseman became a Hollywood superhero, bringing African culture to the masses while also being a touchstone for the Black community. He appeared in four Marvel movies, most notably in best picture nominee and global phenomenon “Black Panther.” With his nuanced and passionate portrayal of an African ruler and protector navigating personal turmoil amid extraordinary circumstances, Boseman captured hearts and minds around the world giving the “Wakanda forever!” salute.

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