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The death of Chadwick Boseman was a terrible tragedy. Double-check your Oscars ballot and take a look at what last night's award ceremony did about it.

Did the Oscars use Chadwick Boseman’s death for shameful profit?

There’s a fine line between honoring someone’s legacy and exploiting their memory for a quick buck. The way the Oscars handled Chadwick Boseman’s death might have leaned toward the latter. Oh, you probably didn’t think about it – it’s not like The Academy was selling Black Panther plushies outside the Dolby Theatre. But take a moment to consider how the ceremony was staged, and it all starts to look a little weird.

The death of Chadwick Boseman was one of those tragedies that took us all by surprise. The public at large (and most of the industry) didn’t know he was sick. So it made sense for it to be part of the Oscars in a way. But did it have to be used as the carrot at the end of the stick that would keep us watching the show until the end?

Posthumous nominations

Nominating someone’s performance in any category after they’ve passed away is tricky business. On one hand, you wouldn’t want to leave a superlative example of entertainment work out of the awards conversation. At the same time, nominating someone posthumously gives them an inevitable advantage over the competition. We’re all human, after all.

Being nominated posthumously isn’t a surefire way to win an Oscar, but it certainly increases the odds in that nominee’s favor. Of course, it also taints the win: did Academy members vote for the strength of the performance or did they vote for the nominee as a way to express their condolences? Going further, was the nomination a response to the quality of the work, or a response to the tragedy?

Chadwick Boseman was nominated in the Best Actor category after his death and instantly became a favorite to win. Partly because his acting in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is fantastic – as it had usually been throughout his career. Partly because of the reasons we just listed. How could the members of The Academy not give Boseman an Oscar as the perfect send off? Surely everyone would vote with their hearts, right?

Category shuffle

As if acknowledging that the biggest question about the Academy Awards this year was whether Chadwick Boseman would get an Oscar, The Academy did something unusual: they reorganized the order in which the awards would be handed out. They placed the Best Actor in a Leading Role category as the final award of the night. 

That’s . . . weird, isn’t it? A little exploitative, maybe? The Academy knew people were more invested in Chadwick Boseman’s nomination and potential win (make that “almost 100% sure win”) than in which movie would win the Best Picture Oscar. So instead of closing the ceremony with Best Picture, they handed that one third-to-last, then Best Actress second-to-last, and then Best Actor was the big finale.

And this is where it gets more complicated because this is where the death of Chadwick Boseman turned out to not be enough to guarantee him a win. Which means last night’s Oscars didn’t end with a triumphant final tribute to a wonderful actor who was taken from us too soon. Instead, the Academy voters gave the win to Anthony Hopkins, who was great in The Father, but who also isn’t Chadwick Boseman.

Sir Hopkins

As it turns out, Anthony Hopkins wasn’t even available to accept his unexpected Best Actor Oscar. Did the venerable thespian assume, like most of us, that the death of Chadwick Boseman pretty much guaranteed the younger actor would win, so it was probably okay to skip the ceremony? Now, Hopkins is a class act, so this morning he posted an acceptance tweet anyway, and he honored Boseman in it.

Last night, however, Hopkins’s absence made an awkward turn of events even more awkward. As much as we love Hannibal Lecter, the letdown of not seeing Chadwick Boseman win, coupled with the fact that all we got from Hopkins was a still photograph and a confused voiceover about how he wasn’t there to accept the award . . . well, it all made the awards ceremony end with a whimper rather than a bang.

But whose fault is that? Who rescheduled the categories and banked on a Chadwick Boseman win keeping audiences stuck to their screens all the way to the end? And why was that necessary? Would we feel better about it if Boseman’s performance had been honored in a different way and not used to bait viewers for three hours? Hard to tell at this point, but the whole thing feels less than wholesome.

There’s one (somewhat) positive angle to come out of last night’s Oscars debacle of a finale: now we know the results are definitely not known ahead of time. There’s no way they would’ve set Chadwick Boseman up to fail like that if they’d known. So, what do you think? Would you’ve liked the Academy to honor the death of Chadwick Boseman in a different way? Let us know in the comments!

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