The gamble didn’t pay off. Not only did Boseman not win for his performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” but the Oscar went to the sole nominee who was not present: Anthony Hopkins, who delivered a critically acclaimed performance in “The Father” as a man grappling with dementia. After revealing the winner, presenter Joaquin Phoenix stated that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would be accepting the award on Hopkins’s behalf. With nobody to deliver a speech, the show was suddenly over.
Question marks flooded social media: Wait, what just happened?
Boseman, who died at 43 after privately battling colon cancer for four years, was nominated for his performance as the ambitious trumpeter Levee Green in the recent film adaptation of the August Wilson play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Boseman posthumously won a Golden Globe, NAACP Image Award and Screen Actors Guild Award for the role, with his wife, Taylor Simone Ledward, often delivering heartfelt acceptance speeches on his behalf.
Though the Oscars honored Boseman in the rapidly paced In Memoriam segment — introduced by Angela Bassett, who played his mother in “Black Panther” — many argued the institution had done him a disservice by using his likeness for a non-fungible token included in the Oscars swag bags. The broadcast’s abrupt ending stunned viewers (and the ceremony’s producers, most likely) who had expected the best actor presentation to serve as a final tribute to Boseman.
Rob Mills, an executive at Walt Disney Television involved in the Oscars production, told Variety after the ceremony that it “was not meant to end on somebody who was not present.”
“It was a calculated risk, that I think still paid off because everybody was talking about it," he said. "Similarly, nobody wants the wrong envelope to happen, like it did [four] years ago, but everyone was talking about it. I think some people thought maybe they missed some awards. ‘Why is best picture early?’ or, ‘What’s happening, this is crazy,’ almost like, ‘How can this possibly happen? Best picture has to end it!’ Some people were upset, some people loved it and that was really the point that there was no apathy.”
That portion of the show began on an unusual note, with Phoenix, last year’s winner for his lead performance in “Joker,” seemingly ignoring the teleprompter to instead tell the audience that he was “supposed to talk about acting and, specifically, the transformative moment when the actor discovers the character and fully embodies it. But I don’t really know anything about that.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever really had that experience,” Phoenix said. All that he could say with sincerity, he continued, was how inspired he felt watching each of the nominees: Boseman, Hopkins, Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”), Gary Oldman (“Mank”) and Steven Yeun (“Minari”).
Some experts had predicted Hopkins’s surprise win, given the gravitas of his performance and the fact that he won the BAFTA for best actor — the British award widely considered to be a major Oscars predictor. But in a video filmed Monday morning from Wales, Hopkins expressed that he had not expected to win at 83, making him the oldest person to ever win an acting Oscar.
“I want to pay tribute to Chadwick Boseman, who was taken from us far too early,” Hopkins said. “And again, thank you all very much. I really did not expect this.”