Wednesday, April 28, 2021

“He Was Just Interested In the Work”

Above: Chadwick Boseman being honored during the
In Memorium segment of the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony
– Sunday, April 25, 2021.

Actor Chadwick Boseman died August 28 last year from colon cancer. He had been living with the disease since 2016, though never spoke of it publicly.

Since his passing, I’ve honored Chadwick on the 28th day of every month at The Wild Reed. (To begin at the start of this honoring series, click here.)

I was anticipating honoring Chadwick this month by celebrating his Oscar win for Best Actor at Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony. But like many people, I was both surprised and disappointed when that didn’t happen.

Here’s how USA Today’s Brian Truitt recounts what many view as an “upset.”

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. . . . 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?

But no. Anthony Hopkins, who turned in an exceptional performance in The Father, won. He wasn’t there to accept, bringing an already strange ceremony to a clunker of an anti-climax, but on social media early Monday morning, Hopkins – ever the gentleman – paid tribute to Boseman, “who was taken from us far too early.”

So what happened? Well, according to Joyce Eng, senior editor of the award season punditry website GoldDerby, Hopkins’ win came down, in part, to “good old-fashioned Hollywood strategy” on the part of the studio that produced and marketed The Father.

In Johnny Oleksinski’s April 26 New York Post article, Eng explains this “strategy.”

On paper, Chadwick Boseman appeared to be the favorite because he won most of the precursor awards and Anthony Hopkins only had the BAFTA. Ma Rainey’s actor won the SAG Award and the Golden Globe. But I think there was something in play that general fans were not aware of, and that’s the fact that The Father was peaking at exactly the right time [for the Oscars]. Sony Pictures Classics held off releasing the film till literally the last minute in theaters. It opened February 26. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, on the other hand, dropped on Netflix back in November, during a tricky year with ample distractions.

Whatever the reason for the upset, I take heart in the response from Chadwick’s family. As TMZ reports:

[Chadwick's brother Derrick (left)] doesn’t view Chadwick not winning an Oscar for Best Actor as a snub because every nominated actor was excellent and deserving of the award. He says the family isn’t upset or agitated whatsoever that Chadwick’s name wasn’t called at the end of the Oscars ceremony. Derrick tells us the family wishes Hopkins and his family all the best because, as Derrick put it, “I’m sure [Anthony] would if Chad won.” Derrick says Chadwick wasn’t one to put too much value on the Oscars anyway. Derrick says Chadwick “always described them to me as a campaign.” That being said . . . Derrick says, yes, an Oscar would have been an achievement, but was never an obsession.

I take heart too in the words of Chadwick's colleague Viola Davis, who says: “Chadwick was a character actor in a leading man’s body. He was 100 percent dedicated and was just interested in the work. . . . He was not interested in what he did before [or] his ego. He wasn’t interested in any of that. He was just interested in the work. That’s Chad.”

How then to celebrate Chadwick, eight months to the day since his passing? Well, what better way then by focusing on the work that he loved so much and which made him the great arist that he was. And so I share, with added images, videos, and links, a recent review of Chadwick Boseman: Portrait of An Artist, the Netflix special I intend watching tonight. This review is followed by the special’s trailer.


Chadwick Boseman:
Portrait of An Artist

5 Things the Netflix Special
Reveals About the Late Actor

By Sarah El-Mahmoud

April 20, 2021

Since August, we’ve been mourning a legend. Chadwick Boseman touched the lives of many with his work as an actor and his insurmountable presence. Best known for being Marvel’s Black Panther, the actor, playwright, producer and philanthropist died on August, 28, 2020 at the age of 43. In tribute to the legend, Netflix has put together a special for the late actor called Chadwick Boseman: Portrait of an Artist, and it has a number of highlights we won’t soon forget.

Portrait of an Artist features a few of Chadwick Boseman’s close collaborators such as Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom actress Viola Davis and Da 5 BloodsSpike Lee. They share their experiences with Boseman and what he was like as an actor, or as he preferred to call himself, an “artist.” Here are a few things the new release, currently streaming on Netflix for a limited time, reveals about him.

What Chadwick Boseman was like at Howard University

Chadwick Boseman has always been proud of his college, D.C.’s Howard University, an alma mater he shares with Taraji P. Henson, Anthony Anderson and U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris. During Chadwick Boseman: Portrait of an Artist, his former teacher Phylicia Rashad, best known for her role in The Cosby Show, shares her own impressions of the actor while he was part of her class.

In Rashad’s words: “He was this lanky young man with a very gentle face and a gentle smile. Eyes big and wide open, wanting to take everything in, wanting to know all there was to know about theater and I mean everything.”

Rashad has been known to be one of Boseman’s early mentors when he studied directing at Howard. In the special, she shares her personal experiences with him before he became a Hollywood star. She speaks about how he wanted to learn everything involved in studying theater. He came in to become a director, but ended up finding a calling in acting. It’s quite amazing to hear how highly Phylicia Rashad speaks of him from the inception of his career.

Viola Davis felt like she needed to “step up” with Chadwick

Chadwick Boseman had some incredible opportunities to work with some truly talented actors to match his own expertise, including Viola Davis, with whom the late actor worked in his last performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Davis is prominent in the special, saying a number of memorable things about her co-star, including the following: “Chadwick was one of those actors that scares you because you know you have to step up when you’re in his presence, that he is going to go 100 percent. He just is, you feel it. He’s looking at your work and he’s like ‘I have to believe you in order to believe myself, in order to believe this, that we are in this world.’”

The actress goes on to open up his personal script for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and read some of the notes he had written down for his character of Levee. Viola Davis gets emotional reading his notes about the character because she felt he truly understood the character and took it one step further with it. Quite a few other collaborators in the special reveal Boseman’s tendency to want to embody the “essence” of a character, rather than run lines or imitate them.

He was a perfectionist, especially when it came to playing famous figures

The special also reveals how committed Chadwick Boseman was to playing the real people he portrayed in some of the biopics he was part of. The actor played Jackie Robinson, the first African American MLB player, in 2013’s 42, Godfather of Soul James Brown in 2015’s Get On Up [right], the first Black Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in 2017’s Marshall. It was an impressive run of real people to play, and while it’s clear he took his roles seriously through his work, he was apparently a perfectionist about getting things absolutely right.

He studied the foot movements of James Brown, he studied the techniques to slide on bases just like Jackie Robinson and picked up the cornet with precision and ease for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. His co-star Glynn Turman called him a “technician.” His Get On Up director Tate Taylor remembered Chadwick Boseman practicing his James Brown moves every waking moment, even while waiting for a table at dinner.

Denzel Washington’s powerful words about the actor

You may be aware of Chadwick Boseman’s unique connection with Denzel Washington. Back in 2019, Boseman told the story at an AFI award show about the time when Washington paid for his summer tuition for a theater program at Oxford.

He shared there was “no Black Panther without Denzel Washington” during the speech.

Years following the anonymous donation, the actors established a relationship with one another. In Portrait of an Artist, Washington describes the late actor with these words: “Some people have a concentrated dose of life. It’s like the old frozen orange juice that was in that little container and you have to put a gallon of water in it to make it a quart of orange juice. Well, some people are that concentrated juice with no water in it. It’s too strong. It’s too good. It’s too powerful.”

It’s a beautiful tribute to Chadwick Boseman because it really illustrates who he was from a fellow talented and respected member of the Hollywood community. The documentary shows that he was truly an inspiring person even to the elder Oscar winner because of his zest for life and ability to be a complete version of himself that was not watered down.

Why Chadwick Boseman stood out among Hollywood’s finest

Ultimately, Chadwick Boseman: Portrait of an Artist is simply as advertised. It shares a brief but powerful picture of who he was and why his shocking loss to colon cancer is felt so deeply. He was truly a one of a kind human and a special person who touched all who knew him.

As Viola Davis puts it in the special: “Chadwick was a character actor in a leading man’s body. He was 100 percent dedicated and was just interested in the work. . . . I will continue to say this. He was not interested in Black Panther, what he did before, his ego. He wasn’t interested in any of that. He was just interested in the work. That’s Chad.”

Davis went on to share how many actors are in Hollywood to be famous, but that was never his goal. He truly and deeply cared about acting as a medium to be an artist. The Netflix production is not lavish or too in depth, but that message alone feels like a worthwhile and meaningful one.

NEXT: Remembering Chadwick Boseman’s Life of Purpose

Related Off-site Links:
Anthony Hopkins Wins Best-Actor Oscar in Upset Win Over Chadwick Boseman – Yohana Desta (Vanity Fair, April 25, 2021).
Absent Anthony Hopkins Denies Chadwick Boseman a Posthumous Award in Weirdly Abrupt Oscars Ending – Paul Donoughue (ABC News, April 26, 2021).
What Happened With Anthony Hopkins and Chadwick Boseman?Paper Magazin (April 26, 2021).
Here’s How Anthony Hopkins Beat Chadwick Boseman for the Best Actor Oscar – Joyce Eng (GoldDerby, April 26, 2021).
He Deserved More: Why Chadwick Boseman's Posthumous Oscar Loss Stings So Much – Brian Truitt (USA Today, April 26, 2021).
Chadwick Boseman Deserved Better – Bailey Herdé (The Cut, April 26, 2021).
Anthony Hopkins Honors Chadwick Boseman After His Surprise Oscar Win – Chelsey Sanchez (Harpers Bazaar, April 26, 2021).
Oscars Fail 2021: Pitting Anthony Hopkins Against Chadwick Boseman – Martha Ross (The Mercury News, April 26, 2021).
Chadwick Boseman Wasn't Snubbed at Oscars, Brother Says Family Not UpsetTMZ (April 26, 2021).
Oscars NFT of Chadwick Boseman to Be Redesigned After Best Actor Loss – Antonio Ferme (Variety, April 26, 2021).
Chadwick Boseman Losing at the Oscars Has Sparked a Ton of Drama After People Accused the Academy of "Building the Entire Show" Around Him – Ben Henry (Buzz Feed, April 26, 2021).
Oscars 2021: Tyler Perry Speech and Chadwick Boseman Snub Showcase the Academy's Misses – Margaret H. Willison (NBC News, April 26, 2021).
Chadwick Boseman's Wife Simone Ledward Boseman Wears Custom Versace Gown at 2021 Oscars – Jen Juneau (People, April 26, 2021).
Chadwick Boseman and Carey Mulligan Could Be Avenged at MTV Movie and TV Awards After Oscar Upsets – Daniel Montgomery (GoldDerby, April 26, 2021).
Chadwick Boseman’s Best and Boldest Roles – Yohana Desta (Vanity Fair, April 22, 2021).
Chadwick Boseman: A Film Icon Who Changed Hollywood – Hanna Flint (BBC News, December 23, 2020).

For The Wild Reed’s series that remembers and celebrates Chadwick Boseman, see:
Remembering Chadwick Boseman
Honoring An Icon
Chadwick Boseman’s Timeless Message to Young Voters: “You Can Turn Our Nation Around”
Chadwick Boseman’s Final Film Role: “A Reed Instrument for Every Painful Emotion”
Celebrating a Special Day
Boseman on Wilson
Chadwick Boseman and That “Heavenly Light”
In This Time of Grief
A Bittersweet Accolade
Chadwick Boseman Receives Posthumous NAACP Image Award

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Important Cultural Moment That Is Black Panther
Celebrating Black Panther – Then and Now
“Avengers Assemble!”
Jason Johnson on Stan Lee’s Revolutionary Legacy
Another First for Black Panther
“Something Special,” Indeed!
Queer Black Panther

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