Chadwick Boseman’s posthumous Best Actor nomination would make for rare Oscar win

Chadwick Boseman in 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' on Netflix. (David Lee / Netflix)
Chadwick Boseman in ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ on Netflix. (David Lee / Netflix)

Actors’ roles live on long after they’re gone, but there have only been a handful of times where those roles nab award nominations.

In its 93 years, the Academy Awards have featured nominees who were no longer among the living 62 times in various categories. Rarely, however, have those people gone on to win (just 15 times, to be exact).

The late (and great) Chadwick Boseman joined that list today for his role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. He has become the ninth actor to be nominated at the Oscars (and the sixth for Best Actor).

The first time an actor was nominated posthumously was 1929. Jeanne Eagels was nominated as Best Actress for her role in The Letter, one of only two films she appeared in that had sound. She died in New York City on Oct. 3, 1929.

The first male actor to be nominated posthumously was James Dean in 1955 (he would again be nominated in the same category the following year).

Only two actors, however, have actually won the statuettes after passing away.


Heath Ledger famously scored a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight back in 2008. Peter Finch won a Best Actor award in 1977 for his incredible role in Network.

Ironically, both Finch and Ledger died in January of the years they won.

Ledger’s performance was transformative, but at the same time his death was widely mourned by Hollywood and he was an odds-on favorite to take home the prize that year. It also happened so close to the Oscars that it was hard, I imagine, for those picking the winners to not be moved.

Boseman’s death was also equally as impactful. His death back in August 2020 was a shock to many. He died of cancer and it was not publicly known that he was even sick.

His performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was brilliant, but the question remains if the Academy will award him a statuette.

The Best Actor category is uniquely diverse this year, including Steven Yeun and Riz Ahmed (the first Muslim actor to be nominated).

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