Out of all the awkward and weird things that made this year’s Oscars rather cringeworthy at times, nothing stood out quite like artist Andre Oshea’s NFT art of Chadwick Boseman which was widely shared on social media under the guise of being officially associated with the Academy Awards.
Oshea’s work, which is currently listed on the Ethereum-based Rarible NFT marketplace and set to be auctioned off, and the pieces of NFT art given away in this year’s Oscars swag bags which were offered to nominees, were not commissioned by or directly associated with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Rather, they’re associated with Distinctive Assets, the marketing firm that has offered the gifts in a technically unofficial capacity for about 20 years, and partnered with a company called Nomine(eth) for this year’s gift bags.
Even though the Academy sued Distinctive Assets for violating its trademark in 2016, the marketing agency has continued its tradition of informally sending swag bags to celebrities who choose to receive them. The negative reaction to Oshea’s art has drawn a specific kind of attention that neither the Academy, nor any of the brands responsible for the swag bags, want. But a desire for attention and advertising is a large part of why the swag bags are still given away regularly at extravagant events like the Oscars, and why Distinctive Assets has been speaking to the press about its latest unofficial Oscar gift bags.
To many, Oshea’s art and the strong implication that it was one of the luxury items gifted to the nominees in this year’s Oscar swag bags was a sign that the Academy was set to give Boseman a posthumous Best Actor award for his performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. But to a number of people online, the Academy getting into the NFT game by was also an example of the organization distastefully trying to capitalize both on the tragedy of Boseman’s death and the current speculative interest in NFTs (non-fungible tokens.) Following a number of reports that the Boseman NFT was included in the swag bags given to this year’s Oscar nominees, Oshea took to his Twitter this afternoon to set the record straight, explaining how the singular piece of art is meant to be auctioned off, and he now plans to alter it sometime this week.
In the lengthy post, Oshea described how, as an artist whose work often explores elements of Afrofuturism, he was inspired to evoke Disney’s Black Panther despite the fact that the late actor was nominated for a more recent performance. Oshea’s goal, he explained, was to make a piece of art that would speak to the impact Boseman’s portrayal of T’Challa to young Black fans especially.
“I wanted to create a digital monument that embodied Chadwick’s influence as a hero to all the Black kids everywhere while raising awareness about colon cancer and its impact on Black communities,” Oshea wrote. “I also loved that the funds going to the Colon Cancer Foundation would fund 10,000 colorectal cancer screenings to underserved communities in 2021.”
Oshea repeatedly emphasized that half of the profits from the now-upcoming auction will go to the Colon Cancer Foundation, and at the end of his statement attempted to explain that his decision to change his artwork is in response to people having unintended emotional reactions to it.
“I now recognize 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,” Oshea said.”I will still be donating 50% of the funds to the Colon Cancer Foundation to fund their invaluable work with cancer research and testing.”
One of the things that “triggered” Oshea’s critics was the fact that the base of the NFT art he created is appears to be a royalty-free model of Boseman’s head that can be purchased on CGTrader for $50. Remixing models is quite common among digital artists. But that isn’t necessarily something that people unfamiliar with what NFTs are might know, especially considering how many NFT artists have put the emphasis on their finalized work and how much money—real or ethereal—it goes for.
The ethics behind auctioning the Boseman NFT have also come into question, as it’s unclear whether Chadwick Boseman’s estate was consulted about the use of his likeness in this way. As more criticism of the NFT began to bubble up over the weekend, Marvel Studios concept artist Wesley Burt shared that he was approached some time ago by a marketing company looking to commission a piece of NFT art of Boseman that would be auctioned off for charity. It’s unclear if Nomine(eth) and the company that reached out to Burt are one and the same, but what many noted from Burt’s post was that the 100% of the proceeds from the art auction he was approached about would be donated, where as only 50% of the proceeds from Oshea’s auctioned art would be given away.
When we reached out to Distinctive Assets, a representative confirmed to io9 that its “Everybody Wins” gift bag, which included other pieces of NFT art, was offered to nominees, but told us that the creative process that led to the Boseman NFT was between Nomine(eth) and Oshea.
“[Oshea] was one of the five artists that were brought on to curate a piece for the nominees,” The rep explained. “The company that put this together, this package—which is Nomine(eth)—they approached every artist and said we’d life for you to donate 100% of the proceeds to the Colon Cancer Foundation, and it was at their discretion if they wanted to do that. On Nomine(eth)‘s end, they asked that the artists do 100%. Andre on his own accord decided that he wanted to do it for 50%.”
Currently, the page for Oshea’s Boseman NFT currently states that the creator will now receive 10% of the auction’s proceeds. We’ve reached out to Oshea’s representation for comment regarding this story, but did not hear back by time of publishing.
What everyone involved in the Boseman NFT stunt seem to be willfully misunderstanding is that the bulk of the negative reactions to the Boseman NFT boil down to the simple fact that it all came across as being in incredibly poor taste. Ultimately, Best Actor went to Anthony Hopkins for his role in The Father, and while that might have been disappointing to some who were sure that Boseman would win, the issue with Oshea’s NFT became larger than just the win itself. Beyond the fact that more and more people are coming to the realization that NFTs are an environmentally disastrous grift for crypto-obsessives who fancy themselves the saviors of the art world, Oshea’s art felt like a stunt that backfired epically because the Academy’s voting body was on the same page as the show’s producers.
The entire point of attaching non-fungible tokens to digital art is to create the illusion of scarcity and exclusivity that’s marketed as veracity. In the case of Oshea’s art, the NFT in question was of a recently deceased actor whose death affected many people profoundly, something that also inherently factors into the imagined “worth” of this piece of art specifically. While it’s very nice to see that the Academy wants to honor Boseman’s legacy by contributing to the fight to eradicate the disease that took his life, that’s something that could have just as easily been done without all of the added spectacle and self-congratulations that, in the end, weren’t even the precursor to Boseman actually being given the award of recognition last night.
By now, everyone should be more than familiar with the concept of people telling on themselves, and how it’s up for people to come to their own conclusions when processing people’s explanations for their actions. Whatever shape Oshea’s NFT takes, it’s sure to be visually striking. But it’s also going to be perfectly reasonable to look at it and think that it never should have existed in the first place.
Update 4/27/2021, 7:25 p.m. ET: We’ve provided more details about how the NFT was offered to nominees and the company’s involvement with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. We’ve also include quotes from Distinctive Assets clarifying that it’s separate from the Academy, that it claims no responsibility for the artwork Nomine(eth) commissioned, which was included in Distinctive Assets’ gift bags.
Correction: The NFT was commissioned by Nomine(eth), a brand that partnered with Distinctive Assets, the marketing firm known for popularizing the common practice of sending swag bags to the nominees of major awards ceremonies. io9 regrets the error.
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