Chadwick Boseman: A Legacy of Black Excellence
Where you were when you first watched Black Panther? Do you remember the buzz and excitement leading up to opening night? Or the outfit you laid out to watch the first major superhero movie with an all-star studded Black cast? So do we. The news of Chadwick Boseman’s passing, the star of the movie that rocked our worlds, weighs heavily on our hearts.
Boseman, best known as King T’Challa for his historic role in the Marvel superhero movie Black Panther, died on Friday at his home in Los Angeles at the age of 43. A statement posted on Boseman’s Instagram account revealed that he had been diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer and that it had progressed to Stage 4. The shock of the announcement rippled across social media as fans, entertainers, and political figures alike shared their tributes. To many, he was a hero beyond the screen described as a kind and humble being with a gentle soul. “A true fighter, Boseman persevered through it all, and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much,” read the statement.
Photo Courtesy: Brinson+Banks for The New York Times
Boseman made his mark as a Hollywood leading man in just seven years. His 2013 big-screen breakthrough as Jackie Robinson in “42,” kicked off a sensational run of iconic Black characters. He proved his versatility by taking on the roles of Jackie Robinson, James Brown (Get on Up, 2014) Thurgood Marshall (Marshall, 2017), and of course fictional character T’Challa (Black Panther, 2018). In an interview with the New York Times, Boseman explained that in order to humanize these heroes, “you have to hold it all in your mind, scene by scene. You’re a strong Black man in a world that conflicts with that strength, that really doesn’t want you to be great. So what makes you the one who’s going to stand tall?”
Photo Courtesy: Magdalena Wosinska for The New York Times
But it was his role in Black Panther that really made Boseman stand taller than ever. The global sensation brought by the film was unprecedented. Here was the first major superhero movie with an African protagonist and the first to star a majority Black cast, featuring powerful performances by Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Danai Gurira and many more. Boseman welcomed the role's symbolic significance to Black audiences with pride and devotion. He petitioned for the characters to speak in authentic South African accents, and led discussions about ancient African symbolism and spirituality.
The passion and excitement behind Black Panther led it to be one of the highest-grossing movies of all time, with more than $1.3 billion in earnings globally. It marked a moment of hope, pride, and empowerment for Black people across the globe. Movie-goers came out in droves dressed in their cultural attire, showcasing the pride they carried for their Black identity. We spoke with the Founder of MIZIZI, an African streetwear brand, that released a limited edition Black Panther baseball jersey in partnership with Marvel. Many celebrities, including the cast members, bought out movie theaters to ensure children had the opportunity to see the movie as a part of the Black Panther Challenge. It was a collective moment of Black pride and joy. The feeling was electric.
Many expressed their love and admiration for Boseman on social media. Executive Chairman of the Walt Disney Company, Bob Igor wrote on Twitter that he, “brought enormous strength, dignity and depth to his ground breaking role of Black Panther; shattering myths and stereotypes, becoming a long-awaited hero to millions around the world.” Actor Mark Ruffalo, who played the Hulk and co-starred alongside Boseman wrote, “what a man, and what an immense talent. Brother you were one of the all time greats and your greatness was only beginning.”
Boseman, a Howard University alum, was born and raised in Anderson, South Carolina to Carolyn and Leroy Boseman. He was the youngest of three boys; his brothers Derrick and Kevin were his closest role models. But it was Kevin, who grew up to be a dancer, who foreshadowed Boseman's life in the arts.
His last movie, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, was set to preview on Monday but has been delayed by Netflix. While no official release date has been announced, the movie is expected to be released later this year. It will be his last feature film. Boseman was set to star in and produce Yasuke, the story of the African samurai in Japan, for his production company Xception Content. He was also lined up to play T’Challa in Black Panther 2, whose production has not yet started.
Chadwick Boseman will be remembered for his dedication to his craft, for his heroism on and off the screen, and for showing us what walking in your purpose truly looks like. In his 2018 commencement speech at Howard University he so eloquently stated, “your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.”
Art by Nikkolas Smith @nikkolas_smith
Rest in Power Chadwick Boseman