Last night, Chadwick Boseman took home the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama, the fourth Black actor to do so in the award’s history. Of course, there is endless significance to this win. We are still dealing with the magnitude of his loss; it came as a shock to fans, colleagues, and the world when he passed away after a private four-year battle with colon cancer on August 28, 2020, at only 43 years old.
His win was not surprising but it was still very emotional. The film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, was released posthumously in December 2020, and dedicated to Boseman. Starring Viola Davis, produced by Denzel Washington and based on the bold and audacious 1982 play by August Wilson, this film has been long pegged as major awards season contender. Boseman’s performance in the film is hauntingly amazing, and as Sarah said in her review:
“This is Chadwick Boseman’s swan song, and it is a big, blazing performance that captures both his wild charisma on screen and his ability to deliver gut-wrenching, emotional monologues. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is an actor’s showcase, and it will stand as a monument to Chadwick Boseman, of everything he was to cinema, and everything he could have been.”
His wife, Simone Ledward Boseman, accepted on his behalf:
Earlier on in the show, in a segment called “What do Kids Know About The Golden Globes” featuring La’Ron Hines, the only answer the kids unanimously answered correctly was “Who is Chadwick Boseman?” Every child knew the answer: Black Panther. It was adorable but it also speaks to both the multi-generational, indelible impact Chadwick Boseman has in the industry, and his omnipresence as a role model and hero to children.
In a December New York Times article about the film, Reggie Ugwu spoke to Viola Davis and other members of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom creative team. They were poignant in their words about Boseman’s performance and their experience working with him on his last film.
What stood out was Davis’s high praise of Boseman:
“There was a transcendence about Chad’s performance, but there needed to be. This is a man who’s raging at God, who’s lost even his faith. So [Boseman has] got to sort of go to the edge of hope and death and life in order to make that character work. Of course, you look back on it and see that that’s where he was. I always say, a carpenter or anyone else that does work, they need certain tools in order to create. Our tool is us. We’ve got to use us. There’s no way to just sort of bind whatever you’re going through and leave it in your hotel. You’ve got to bring that with you, and you need permission to do that. And he went there, he really did.”
So it’s especially powerful to see him be recognized (not just by the Globes but the entire industry and the culture) for such a powerful role in an exceptional film. Like many renderings about the history of racism and segregation, many of the cruel realities of racism presented are sadly recognizable today. To me, the film explored white exploitation of Black talent, and brilliantly highlighted the often-complicated identity of Black artists, exacerbated by constant barriers while navigating success in a white world – ironic considering the conversation happening about the Globes at this very moment.