On August 28th, 2020 the entertainment world lost yet another hero, this time American actor Chadwick Boseman. Boseman died at the age of 43 after a battle with colon cancer which he had been fighting in secret for four years.
Boseman was well-known for his lead role as King T’Challa, the Black Panther, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Besides Black Panther, Boseman also depicted iconic Black historical figures like Jackie Robinson, the first African American Major League Baseball player, and Thurgood Marshall, a famous NAACP lawyer and the first African-American on the Supreme Court, in 42 and Marshall respectively.
42, released in 2013, is often seen as Boseman’s first break out hit with one critic from the TIMES remarking, “It’s not easy to play a stoic, but Boseman anchors the movie, and when he smiles, 42, already such a warm story of such cold times, gets even brighter.”
Besides Jackie Robinson, Boseman gave the world a mainstream Black superhero, without selling out to western ideals. The movie itself was praised for its accurate depiction of African culture that unapologetically displayed it as a powerful force. Moreover, Wakanda was created to represent a piece of Africa untouched by colonialism and how prosperity on the continent was limited by Europeans. This depiction was led by Boseman, its lead actor; without his strong lead performance showcasing the power and prominence of a Black man, the world may still have waited on bated breath for a true Black superhero.
The movie made further history by being a nomination for best picture at the Oscars in 2019. It proved that the Academy Awards’ biggest category had room for not only a superhero film, but a film centered on Black voices.
After Boseman had passed, his family said in a statement that it was “the honor of his career to bring King T’Challa to life in Black Panther.”
There was a hidden and tragic element to Black Panther and many other break out movies that Boseman has been in the last few years like Marshall and Da 5 Bloods. While filming, Boseman had already been diagnosed with and battling the cancer that would eventually take his life. Boseman chose to keep that a secret from every person who worked on the crews, and especially the audience who would be hard pressed to find any evidence of illness in his powerful performances. More than his illness however, Boseman’s commitment to these roles despite his condition speaks to his persona as a man with an eternal love for his craft and a will of iron, a depiction which should be forever remembered.
A thread that runs through many of Boseman’s most iconic roles showcases the perseverance of the human spirit. As Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, or King T’Challa, Boseman played characters that were often the subject of scrutiny, bigotry, distaste, and hate. Through it all the legacy of these figures are uplifted by performances demanding respect. The characters Boseman played perfectly encapsulate the kind of willpower, passion, and perseverance that he himself holds.
Many co-stars on Black Panther had beautiful words to say after his passing.
“I am aware that we are all mortal, but you come across some people in life that possess an immortal energy, that seem like they have existed before, that is exactly where they are supposed to always be – here!… that seems ageless… Chadwick was one of those people” Lupita Nyong’o said.
The day of his death, a black and white photo of Chadwick Boseman positively beaming was shared countless times on Instagram. The picture radiated joy and filled the viewer with a sense of life all on its own. Despite carrying with it sad news, the photo managed to further memorialize the strength of his character and the beauty of his work. Nyong’o said it best, “you come across some people in life that possess an immortal energy”.