Chadwick Boseman’s final ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ role could put him in select company among posthumous Oscar nominees


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Although there’s a sense that Oscar voters have a sentimental streak in such instances, the number of performers who have garnered nominations — much less won — remains small.

The only recipients in acting categories were Peter Finch, for his role as the crazed anchorman Howard Beale in “Network” in 1977; and Heath Ledger, who earned best supporting actor for portraying the Joker in “The Dark Knight” after an accidental drug overdose in 2008, at age 28.

The overall list of posthumous nominees includes just one woman, Jeanne Eagels, who became the first actor to earn a posthumous nomination for the early talkie “The Letter,” released in 1929.

The other actors nominated, in order, were James Dean (twice, for “East of Eden” and “Giant”), Spencer Tracy (“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”), Ralph Richardson (“Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes”), and Massimo Troisi (“Il Postino”).

A potentially complicating factor is that Boseman appeared in two eligible films on Netflix this year: “Ma Rainey’s,” which is being submitted as a leading role, as is co-star Viola Davis in a movie that feels like an ensemble piece; and director Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods,” in a significant but supporting role.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020): (L to R) Michael Potts as Slow Drag, Chadwick Boseman as Levee and Colman Domingo as Cutler. Cr. David Lee / Netflix

Beyond Finch and Ledger, there have also been winners in other categories, among them Walt Disney for a Winnie the Pooh short film in 1969, Disney lyricist Howard Ashman (“Beauty and the Beast”), writer Sidney Howard (“Gone With the Wind”) and composer Victor Young (“Around the World in 80 Days”).

As Variety noted, there are other posthumous candidates this year. The list includes Jack Fincher, who wrote “Mank,” the look back at “Citizen Kane” writer Herman Mankiewicz directed by his son, David Fincher; and Brian Dennehy, who starred in the small film “Driveways” before his death in April.
Last week, Marvel announced that it would not recast Boseman’s role as the Black Panther, but the studio is proceeding with a sequel to the original 2018 movie. Marvel chief Kevin Feige said at Disney’s Investor Day said the project will explore “the world of Wakanda and all the rich and varied characters introduced in the first film.”

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