Why did it happen? Boseman became the seemingly immovable Best Actor frontrunner as soon as his final film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, started screening last November. It was the best performance of a career cut agonisingly short: comparisons were inevitably and understandably made to Heath Ledger, whose transformative performance in The Dark Knight, also released a few months after the actor’s death, had resulted in an Academy Award the following year. Boseman, too, was beloved by millions around the world, having embodied a classic comic-book character (in his case Black Panther; in Ledger’s, the Joker) after years of acclaimed lower-key work.
Yet perhaps because Boseman was seen as a sure thing, Academy members perversely felt more able to cast their votes elsewhere: if he was home and dry, what would the harm be in giving someone else an approving nudge? And Boseman was in an unusually nudge-worthy field, with not a scrap of the showy stunt acting that tends to clog up Best Actor – no affectations, no ostentatious suffering, no fake teeth – but rich, fully inhabited characters from established stars and rising talents alike.
“Chadwick Boseman’s going to win this, but I’m voting for Anthony Hopkins,” was an oft-heard refrain in the various anonymous Oscar ballot features run by the trade press in the weeks leading up to the ceremony. And enough voters evidently thought that way to tip the balance.
Read more: Oscars 2021 winners list