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(Review) Chadwick Boseman: Portrait of an Artist

There are of course many reasons to dislike the year 2020.  The coronavirus pandemic claimed millions of lives and forever altered millions more.  We also lost many notable public figures.  One of those that personally stings is the late actor Chadwick Boseman, who died from colon cancer at the young age of 43.  Boseman's passing was a shock, because no one even seemed to know that he was sick in the first place.   To give the performances that he did while fighting that deadly disease makes his career all the more inspiring.

The man was spellbinding in every role he took, whether it was T'Challah, James Brown, Jackie Robinson, or Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, just to name a few.  Chadwick Boseman drew the audience in right from the moment he first appeared on the screen, and he never let go, until the closing credits came onto the screen.  The Howard University graduate seemed to have an incredible future ahead of him, and we assumed there would be decades of captivating performances still to come.  Of course, no one should ever take tomorrow for granted, because it is promised to no one.

That abrupt ending to such a talented creative force is why we were so excited to hear about a new Netflix documentary called Chadwick Boseman: Portrait of An Artist.  (out now) Any opportunity to see him on the screen again is a treat, although it's hard because we were once again reminded there are no more new movies to be seen, now that Ma Rainey's Black Bottom has been released.  To some extent, Boseman's premature death reminds us of Prince, but fans of the music icon can still hope for more albums to come out of the vault in the future.  We've seen Boseman's body of work, and it is fantastic, but it's finished.

So, we went into this viewing with high hopes and were quickly startled to discover that Portrait of an Artist is only 21 minutes long.  It features glowing tributes from Viola Davis, Spike Lee, Phylicia Rashād, and Denzel Washington, among others, all singing the praises of Boseman.  There are also various voice-overs from the late actor interspersed in between, a number of his Ma Rainey scenes, and a couple of short clips from his terrific 2018 Howard commencement speech. 

The tributes all speak to Boseman's drive and commitment to finding the truth of his roles.  The charisma and focus he presents are as captivating as ever.  The only problem is that this documentary is far too short.   It's clearly intended to be one last tool to help secure Boseman's posthumous Oscar win for Best Actor for his role as Levee in Ma Rainey.  That's fine, but what it really does is highlight the need for someone else to do a deep dive into this talented, passionate, and creative man's life.  Give the world a much fuller sense of who he was, and what we will all miss because of his absence.


Chadwick Boseman April 17 2021There should have been so many more chapters to this story.  (pic via variety.com)




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