The late actor and playwright Chadwick Boseman was not awarded the Oscar last night for his performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, as many fans had hoped. Instead, he got another tribute as part of an unofficial Oscars swag bag promo: a garish non-fungible token that renders a gold bust of Boseman’s head in glitzy CGI that sort of looks like an Academy Award.
Critics of the NFT, unveiled this past Saturday by creator Andre O’Shea in a tweet that set off immediate furor, have slammed the animation so hard that the artist today vowed to redesign it before he auctions it on NFT marketplace Rarible later this week.
“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 said in a statement provided to Motherboard. “I apologize for any upset caused.”
A spokesperson for O’Shea told Motherboard that the redesign would focus more on the story of Chadwick's life and his contributions to the world. O’Shea declined an interview.
NFTs are saleable digital assets (JPEGs, GIFs, tweets, MP3s, and so on) that are permanently etched onto a blockchain. Riding high on the Bitcoin bull market, they have sold for tens of millions of dollars at auction, and the Boseman NFT was meant to pull off a similar trick. Critics of NFTs think the works are designed primarily with profit in mind, and say they contribute to the Ethereum blockchain’s notable carbon footprint.
The NFT of Boseman was commissioned by NomineETH, a project of “neurotic digital advertising” firm AdVenture Media. The firm, entirely unaffiliated with the Oscars, commissioned NFTs for each nominee.
While the Boseman NFT was always meant to be auctioned, O’Shea told Motherboard, the other NomineETH NFTs were dropped into an “Everyone Wins” gift bag, which a company called Distinctive Assets has distributed to Academy Award nominees for the past nineteen years. The bag contained a laundry list of primetime ads: among other goodies are a 206-page cookbook from Postmates, an emergency hammer from PETA to save dogs from hot cars, and a high-end, gold-plated vape cartridge.
Some of Boseman’s fans considered the planned auction in poor taste, however, even though half of all proceeds will go to the Colon Cancer Foundation, to aid those afflicted by the disease from which Bosewick died last year. Selling a goofy animation of a dead man’s head to the highest bidder doesn’t strike the right tone, they said.
“Chadwick was never about being exclusive or aloof, and to condense and commodify such a monumental life and talent into a party favor for Hollywood elite felt hollow and tactless,” Kyle Denis, a cultural critic and founder of the Black Boy Bulletin blog, told Motherboard.
Denis is hardly alone in his criticism of the piece. Online commenters called it “ghoulish” and “disgusting.” Others focused on the fact that the key piece of the NFT, a 3D model of a bust of Boseman’s head, was licensed for $50 from a 3D assets site. In acomment on the listing, a Los Angeles artist claims the seller stole the 3D model. Motherboard could not confirm the allegation, and a spokesperson for O’Shea said that he has no idea if the model he licensed had been stolen.
The blowback to the NFT shocked O’Shea, who initially defended the piece on social media. “I’ve never received so much hate from my art,” O’Shea tweeted on Sunday. ”I know they’re internet trolls & im not taking what they say about me personally but it’s shocking to see I’ve inspired such negative emotions.”
“I wanted to create a digital monument that embodied Chadwick’s influence as a hero to all the Black kids everywhere,” O’Shea said in his statement.
Besides being a boon for charity, a record-breaking NFT sale would also place money in the pocket of a Black man, added O’Shea, who is Black. Of the ten most expensive NFTs sold to date, not a single artist is black.
“We have the opportunity to create REAL history with this piece,” O’Shea tweeted on Sunday.
O’Shea said in his statement that Black Panther is one of his favorite films, and wove references from the Boseman-starring film into the NFT. For what it’s worth, some people liked it.
“I love the way the purple vibranium and other elements of Wakanda are incorporated in the piece along with the flow of the music and sound,” Umba Daima, co-founder of Black NFT Art, an artist management firm for Black NFT artists, told Motherboard. Daima said that he respected O’Shea’s decision to revise the NFT.
In his statement, O’Shea also reminded critics that half of all proceeds will go to the Colon Cancer Foundation. The Foundation wants to use the proceeds to donate 10,000 colorectal exams to people from underserved communities. Tweeted O’Shea on Sunday: “We can change lives with this NFT!!”
But before he can change lives, O’Shea must change his NFT first. And, even then, it might not be enough to placate critics who take issue with auctioning a dead man’s visage via NFT in the first place.