Fun Fact Number One: While it tries to position itself as a celebration of creativity, the Academy Awards more frequently perpetuates an elitist, gatekeeping culture that frequently spurns real art for ratings, self-congratulations, and profit. Fun Fact Number Two: Replace “Academy Awards” with “non-fungible tokens,” and the sentence still works just fine.
So we guess we shouldn’t have been too surprised when it was announced late last week that a prominent celeb-swag company, Distinctive Assets, figured out a way to rope the newest digital moneymaking trend-scam into the awards show. This year’s “Everyone Wins” gift bag also included a way for anyone to bid on ultra-rare NFT creations celebrating one of 2020’s best film performances: a special piece honoring the late Chadwick Boseman, widely considered the favorite to win a posthumous “Best Actor” award for his role in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
Fast-forward through last Sunday’s Academy Awards to today: In a surprise upset, Boseman lost out to Sir Anthony Hopkins who, to his credit, sounds just as confounded as the rest of us, and just as dismissive about the Academy Awards. Meanwhile, Boseman’s NFT bust went up for auction as part of Distinctive Assets’ gaudy “Everyone Wins” campaign. The auction was briefly online with a “Buy Now” price of $1.2 million — 50 percent of which would go to charity and 10 percent of which would go to the artist, Andre O’Shea, who is accused of having bought the base Boseman design for $50 from CD Trader. The backlash was so strong that O’Shea removed the NFT on Monday afternoon and delayed the auction while he creates a new design.
Tacky even before it appeared to be a scam — This whole Boseman NFT debacle was pretty gross from the get-go, even when you remove the evidence pointing towards this entire thing being yet another exploitative money grab. The Academy Awards’ annual In Memoriam tribute section felt rushed and strange, probably so that they could linger on Boseman’s moment. Then, there was the surprise announcement that they would be announcing Best Actor as the last award of the night, instead of Best Picture, as is traditionally the case. Presumably, this was to carve out time for Boseman’s widow, Simone Ledward Boseman, to give a speech on her late husband’s behalf, who almost everyone believed to be a shoo-in for the statuette.
And the award goes to... — And then it went to Hopkins, who wasn’t even present to accept the thing. Of course, this mattered none at all to Distinctive Assets, who planned to capitalize on Boseman’s passing with or without his award. If appears Distinctive Assets (which, it’s at pains to point out isn’t in any way affiliated with the Academy Awards) told artists it approached almost all of the Boseman NFT’s proceeds would go to charity. In reality, half of $1.2 million is earmarked for the Colon Cancer Foundation, and the artist, Andre O’Shea, will receive a 10-percent commission. Rarible, who is hosting the auction, announced it would waive its traditional fees... but that leaves another $480,000 going, well, somewhere. We’ve reached out to Distinctive Assets for clarification about the remaining amount goes, and will update this story if we hear from them.
Learning the wrong lesson — If all this weren’t enough, O’Shea’s stated reasoning for the NFT redesign doesn’t seem to grasp the main criticisms of the piece. “I now recognise that Chadwick’s face is a triggering reminder of his death rather than his life, and I will be redesigning the artwork to be auctioned off later this week,” O’Shea told Motherboard in an email statement. “I apologize for any upset caused.”
Perhaps we’re just speaking for ourselves here, but seeing Boseman’s face in O’Shea’s piece wasn’t as much a “triggering reminder of his death” as it was a reminder that “hastily made NFT artwork resembling something from the MTV VMAs circa 2007 and priced at over $1 million” is simply a bad look for everyone involved. We eagerly await the replacement Boseman NFT, if only out of morbid curiosity.
In the meantime, go watch Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on Netflix, if you haven’t. It’s really, really good. In fact, we’d go as far as to call Boseman’s performance in it “Oscar-worthy.”