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#OscarsFail 2021: Pitting Anthony Hopkins against Chadwick Boseman

Academy Awards producers appeared to gamble on the likelihood that Boseman would receive a posthumous Oscar, not that Hopkins would win in an upset

MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM (2020) Chadwick Boseman as Levee.  Cr. David Lee/NETFLIX
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM (2020) Chadwick Boseman as Levee. Cr. David Lee/NETFLIX
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Sunday night’s Oscars ended in a deeply jarring fashion when Anthony Hopkins was announced as best actor — after the ceremony was clearly designed to deliver a big emotional Hollywood ending and see the late Chadwick Boseman honored with posthumous win.

The outcome left Boseman’s fans feeling bitter and Academy Awards fans deeply disappointed that the producers, including director Steve Soderbergh, appeared to gamble on an uncertain outcome, hoping to create a poignant moment for a show and film industry battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

What made the situation particularly unsettling is that a number of critics believe that Hopkins, the legendary “Silence of the Lambs” actor, deserved his second Oscar, even though they also greatly admired Boseman’s work.

“To be fair, that WAS the best of those five performances,” wrote New York Times critic Wesley Morris. “But still. Whoa.”

“Whatever your feelings, to those of you who are crapping on Anthony Hopkins: No. Not in this house,” added critic and film historian Mark Harris.

But the announcement of Hopkins’ name came with another unfortunate #OscarsFail moment. He wasn’t available — either in Los Angeles or remotely — to accept his honor. The 83-year-old reportedly was asleep at his home in Wales when his name was announced.

By early Monday morning, Hopkins hopped on Instagram to make amends, even though he didn’t create the situation. In a video from the Welsh countryside, the actor seemed genuinely shocked to have won the award, and graciously paid tribute to Boseman.

“At 83 years of age, I did not expect to get this award. I really didn’t,” Hopkins said. “I’m very grateful to the Academy. Thank you. I want to pay tribute to Chadwick Boseman, who was taken from us far too early. And again, thank you all very much. I really did not expect this, so I feel very privileged and honored, thank you.”

Boseman died of colon cancer last year at the age of 43. The “Black Panther” star was considered to be a frontrunner for a rare posthumous Oscar for his riveting performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” He already had won a Golden Globes and other precursor awards.

But Hopkins also was lauded for his “towering” and “astonishing” performance in “The Father,” playing a London patriarch struggling with dementia, the New York Times said. 

“It’s some of the absolute best work of Hopkins’ lengthy and storied career,” wrote critic Christy Lemire for RogerEbert.com. She said the “brilliant” actor gave a performance that’s “both charismatic and ferocious, sometimes within the same breath.”

Overnight, much of the criticism of Hopkins’ win began to focus on how the Academy Awards producers handled the show, moving the best actor category to the last award of the night, behind best picture, which has historically closed the show — going back to 1929.

Indiewire’s Ben Travers agreed that Hopkins deserved the Oscar but said having his win come at the end of the show was particularly upsetting because it reminded people that, first, Boseman lost, and, second, that the Academy historically overlooks Black creatives.

“Everyone was reminded that a Black man rarely wins Best Actor, a Black woman rarely wins Best Actress, and Black directors rarely win — or in (the case of director Shaka King), they’re not even nominated,” Travers wrote.

MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid, in decrying the “Game of Thrones”-style ending, also proclaimed on Twitter: “Andra Day and Chadwick Boseman were robbed,”

TV writer Chase Mitchell tweeted it was “Oscars whoopsie,” to say the least, for producers to play around with the order of the awards. BuzzFeed deputy editorial director Spencer Althouse added: “The Oscars were so sure that Chadwick Boseman was going to win that they REARRANGED THE ENTIRE CEREMONY so his category could be last, and then they gave the award to Anthony Hopkins instead…the most chaotic and unhinged thing I’ve ever seen.”

Some questioned whether producers had cynically exploited Boseman’s popularity to build momentum for the show:

“The #Oscars not only used Chadwick’s image for profit but they deliberately rearranged their category showing to have his go up last to boost their viewership, only to hand the award to someone else,” tweeted the “Black Panther” franchise fan account.

Others raised the long-standing concern about awards shows pitting artists against one another, with film Dan Murrell offering another reason for people’s disappointment over the show’s ending: how it distracted attention from the work and legacy of both actors. He tweeted: