Everything at the 93rd Academy Awards was proceeding as usual – or, as usual as it can be for a world still gripped by a pandemic. The ceremony was downsized a little, akin to last month's Grammys, but for the most part, nominees and eventual winners were all there to watch the proceedings unfold. And, if they weren't, they were placed in different parts of the world with a professional camera crew – no Zoom here.
The year looked promising when it came to representation and history-making wins. The first award given out was to Emerald Fennell, for Best Original Screenplay for Promising Young Woman. Fennell's win marks the first in that category by a woman in 13 years.
Shortly after, Daniel Kaluuya – predictably – won for Best Supporting Actor for Judas and the Black Messiah, where he thanked his mum and dad for conceiving him (bless!)
Then, Chloé Zhao won Best Director for Nomadland, becoming only the second woman and first person of Asian descent to win in that category.
Couple that with Yuh-Jung Youn's Best Supporting Actress win for Minari – the first Korean woman to ever win in that category – and we looked set for a huge, unprecedented evening packed with historic wins.
Nomadland won Best Picture – which was kind of to be expected – but what was unexpected is that they didn't conclude the show with that win like usual. Instead, the final two awards to be given out were that of Best Actress and Best Actor, and in my opinion the reason for that was clear.
Though he was of course featured in the 'In Memoriam' segment, the ceremony was clearly building up to a special tribute to Chadwick Boseman, who was thought to be the locked-in winner for Best Actor for his outstanding performance in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. I even said that it was a no-brainer.
So, after Frances McDormand won her third Best Actress Oscar for Nomadland – again, also kind of to be expected – Joaquin Phoenix took to the stage to announce the winner for Best Actor as the event's final award.
And the Oscar goes to... Anthony Hopkins, for The Father.
Hopkins wasn't present to accept the award, so Phoenix accepted on his behalf, and the ceremony abruptly ended.
ARE. YOU. KIDDING. ME?
Hopkins was fantastic in The Father, don't let that escape anyone. In my opinion, it's probably his best performance since at least The Silence Of The Lambs.
But to have a ceremony so clearly anchored in paying tribute to the lives lost throughout 2020 building up to a celebration of the late Boseman – was also nominated for a major acting award – only to give it to Hopkins instead, feels bizarrely disrespectful. Even Hopkins, who later posted a video message paying tribute to Boseman, seemed blindsided by the win.
Either producers really didn't know who was going to win, and they themselves were shocked OR they did know, and cruelly played on sympathy and grief to build up to a climax and retain viewership throughout the ceremony.
But why did this happen? Does the academy just not like consistently celebrating Black talent in the bigger awards? McDormand's performance in Nomadland was very special, but both Viola Davis and Andra Day had pretty good odds too – and either of their wins would have marked the second time ever a Black woman took home the award.
Maybe we can be extremely optimistic and believe it's based on performance alone.
Or, maybe, it comes down to a voting game, where the rules are built into the very framework of the Academy. Author Kristen G. Warner surmised it best on Twitter as the Internet attempted to grapple with what they all just saw.
"It was a voting issue with the membership," Warner wrote.
"Who did the international Block want and how bad did the vote split amongst Boseman, (Steven) Yeun, and Riz (Ahmed)."
Warner continued, "...ending with a body of color feels good but honestly I think it's actually very accurate that it ends on a white dude. Because despite best attempts and continued attempts? They're the stars we've attuned our tastes to."
Perhaps I'm reading into it too much, but for me, the whole debacle still feels gross and exploitative. Angela Bassett's moving speech ahead of the In Memoriam segment, as well as Daniel Kaluuya's acceptance speech, were both about celebrating the lives of the ones we've lost and making sure to cherish our days while we're still here.
The In Memoriam segment arguably had its own issues – it's incredibly fast pace and notable omissions (Adam Schlesinger, Naya Rivera, Jessica Walter) have all been highly criticised. But it ended on Boseman; setting up for what I thought would be a full tribute moment at the show's conclusion.
On top of that, an NFT artwork of a golden bust of Boseman was given to every nominee as part of their Oscars goodie bag. Now, the artwork is being auctioned for charity with 50% of proceeds going to the Colon Cancer Foundation.
In my opinion, it feels incredibly egregious to commodify and literally tokenise the death of one of the year's nominees – and favourites to win – just to give him no real honour at the actual ceremony besides a flash on a screen.
This isn't to say that Boseman is worth a special honour more than any of the other brilliant talents that died in the past 12 months, but I'm confident the Academy was aware of the impact his passing had. Take the NFT. Or the fact he was the final person honoured in the In Memoriam segment. The 'Best Actor' award being presented at the ceremony's conclusion for the first time in half a century. The invitation of his wife, Taylor Simone Ledward, to the ceremony.
I can't see any other conclusion beyond that we were led to believe, from every angle, that Boseman's performance would win. And, while his loss doesn't make his life less worthy of celebration, his passing lingered in front of us for over three hours, only for it to be glossed over.
It's a disservice to Boseman, it's a disservice to his family, it's a disservice to Hopkins and it's a disservice to us.
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