I believe Chadwick Boseman was and always will be an extremely rare kind of actor — one of the true, real-deal movie stars. He was a man of high class and charisma, noticeably devoid of the tabloid drama and gossip of the Hollywood scene. He was noble, cool, calm and controlled, cut out of the same cloth as Denzel Washington and George Clooney. If I knew Chadwick Boseman was in a movie, there was a higher chance I would go see it. His supreme talent imbued the Black heroes and inspirations he chose to portray with a mythical quality. He was the man who could seem to do no wrong.
Late at night on August 28, 2020, Chadwick Boseman passed away after a four-year fight with colon cancer, in his home alongside his family and wife. Boseman managed to keep his disease hidden from the public and many of his co-stars while delivering powerhouse performance after powerhouse performance between chemo treatments and operations. Kevin Feige, the head of Marvel Studios, wasn’t aware of his condition up until the day of Boseman’s death, when he got an urgent email one hour before he died. Boseman didn’t let his cancer get the better of him and chose smart roles that were an inspiration to many, breaking down barriers when it came to the representation of the Black community in mainstream cinema.
His first big studio film, “42,” saw him deliver a real breakout role. Portraying Jackie Robinson, the first Black baseball player to play Major League Baseball, Boseman brought a certain hardihood to the role that elevated “42” beyond your typical biopic. Chadwick Boseman followed “42” up with other biopics covering the lives of Black heroes like “Get on Up,” the story of James Brown, celebrated Godfather of Soul, and “Marshall,” the story of Thurgood Marshall, the first Black justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Regardless of the films’ overall quality, Boseman’s presence always managed to glue my eyes to the screen. But it wasn’t until “Black Panther” that Boseman achieved true movie star status, breaking records — including the biggest solo superhero launch of all time — and inspiring many with the comic book movie smash hit.
Boseman’s performance is the real centerpiece of “Black Panther.” He was an actor who not only performed on screen, but truly commanded it. In “Black Panther,” Boseman stepped into King T’Challa’s shoes with grace, strength and sincerity, delivering the kind of performance we don’t get to see often in big-budget blockbuster filmmaking. He oozed charisma and power with every step he took. Boseman stood tall and walked with a unique confidence, showcasing his evolution as an actor since bursting onto the scene. His portrayal of a Black man who is both king and superhero whilst fraily human bestows a certain regality to the representation of Black faces on the silver screen. In bringing King T’Challa to life, Boseman represented a change for Black representation in Hollywood that paved the way for the development of more big films featuring people of color, such as “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”
His most recent performance was as Vietnam War freedom fighter Commander Stormin’ Norman, in this year’s Spike Lee joint, “Da 5 Bloods,” a fitting and tragic choice as one of his last, cementing the man as a mythical and persuasive leader not only off the screen but also on it. The film centers on these men going back to find his bones, as he left such a strong and emotional impact on them. Boseman’s character inspires and pushes his fellow Vietnam vets in the film, and remains in spirit long after his death in a shoot out in the jungle.
Much like the characters he portrayed, Chadwick Boseman has left a lasting impact on many across the world. With “Black Panther,” Boseman became a hero to many children, teenagers and adults as a strong, Black superhero who wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable and always tried his best. Comic book films are traditionally littered with white heroes and villains, but Boseman did something that was refreshing and game-changing — he took a superhero and really made it his own.
Beyond that, his devotion to activism and the proliferation of Black stories in Hollywood demonstrated the benevolence he often portrayed came from the principles of his reality. Until the moment of his death, Chadwick Boseman used his voice to speak out about how COVID-19 had disproportionately affected minority communities, promoted BLDPWR.com, a grassroots organization devoted to challenging the predominant narratives and the amount of Black representation Hollywood typically tends to portray, and served as a producer on films like “Marshall” and “Message from the King.” These films showed his devotion to getting Black stories out there for people to see and understand the cultural intricacies of a community that has yet to see true representation in many artistic fields, including that of film.
The voice of power and reason he brought to roles like King T’Challa and Thurgood Marshall came from his devotion to activism and the extraordinary amount of hope he had for the future of minority representation on the big screen and political reform in the U.S. and across the world. It was this sense of devotion to moral advancement that made every single one of his roles feel so lived-in and momentous, it was what differentiated Black Panther from the rest of the Avengers and cemented his status as a beacon of hope that transcended the trappings of an aspect ratio.
King T’Challa/Black Panther is one of the most memorable characters of recent memory, and the depth Boseman imbued him with was so special. What he did will never be forgotten, just like the actor himself. His legacy will undoubtedly live on — his high school has begun to set a scholarship in his honor and over 60,000 have already signed a petition to replace a Confederate monument with a statue of him in his hometown. The online petition states, “He opened many doors for many young black people with his leading roles in movies such as Black Panther and Marshall…it is only natural that his hometown honors what he did.” He deserves one. He broke down barriers, kept his head up high, was a brilliant performer, and best of all, always stayed true to himself. I really believe he’s one of the rare actors whose heroics went past the screen and served as inspiration to many. He showed young people, especially young Black people, that anything was possible if you worked at it. He showed everyone that there are bigger opportunities for superheroes who aren’t white, an issue which plagued the Marvel Cinematic Universe for almost a decade before Boseman’s unforgettable debut. He was a hero to many generations, and will be truly remembered as one of the greats.
Rest in power, Chadwick Boseman. You will not be forgotten.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, September 8, 2020, e-print edition. Email Dylan Thomas Kalaydijan at [email protected]