At this Sunday’s Academy Awards, all signs point to the late Chadwick Boseman winning the statuette for best actor. Boseman, a cultural icon who embodied heroes like Black Panther, has already picked up a slew of posthumous awards for his turn as Levee, an ambitious, but tortured cornet player, in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. So it was no surprise when Boseman, who died last August of colon cancer, notched a posthumous Oscar nod for the film, directed by Tony Award winner George C. Wolfe, and adapted from August Wilson’s classic play. Ahead of this Sunday’s ceremony, where Boseman is competing against Anthony Hopkins, Riz Ahmed, Steven Yeun, and Gary Oldman, let’s take a look back at his impressive career and reminisce about some of his best and most beloved roles.
Boseman broke out in Brian Helgeland’s 2013 biopic, earning the approval of Jackie Robinson’s widow, Rachel. He spent months training to imitate the baseball great’s physicality, going so far as to never slide on his right side—just like Jackie.
Get On Up
It took two months of intensive dance training—five hours each day—for Boseman to perfect soul icon James Brown’s legendary strut and swagger in this 2014 biopic.
Boseman bore little physical resemblance to future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall—so he focused instead on capturing his fellow Howard alum’s intelligence and grace for this 2017 drama.
Boseman made his debut as T’Challa in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, but it’s the stand-alone Black Panther film that solidified his superstar status. He transformed into the superhero from the inside out, getting in shape and traveling to South Africa to perfect his onscreen accent for the 2018 film, since citizens of the fictional Wakanda speak isiXhosa.
Da 5 Bloods
Though Boseman was battling cancer as he shot this 2020 Vietnam epic in a blazing-hot jungle, he kept his condition a secret from his coworkers—including director Spike Lee.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Boseman delivered a tour de force performance as Levee, a cornet player whose greater ambitions are crushed over the course of the August Wilson–penned tale. It’s a wrenching turn, with the star playing a character that costar Viola Davis called “the greatest role written for a young Black actor ever in history.”