On August 28, the world was left in a state of shock as news spread of the death of actor Chadwick Aaron Boseman. He died at the age of 43, after privately fighting colon cancer for four years. He had been diagnosed in 2016, the same year he first played T’Challa/Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War.
Shock turned to grief as fans honoured the African American actor. Parents shared pictures of their children on social media, who paid tribute to the actor while holding back tears. Countless photos went viral of kids crossing their arms across their chests, with their Marvel superhero toys in the background, giving the “Wakanda Forever” salute.
The giants of Hollywood were also left grief-stricken. Viola Davis, Boseman’s co-star in Get On Up wished him well on his journey beyond: “Chadwick.....no words to express my devastation of losing you. Your talent, your spirit, your heart, your authenticity........It was an honour working beside you, getting to know you....Rest well, prince...May flights of angels sing thee to thy heavenly rest. I love you!”
Denzel Washington, who had paid for a theatre scholarship for Boseman at Oxford said: “He was a gentle soul and a brilliant artist, who will stay with us for eternity through his iconic performances.”
In a country where African Americans suffer from police brutality and bitter racial inequality, Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther was a role model for the country’s African American population
Chris Evans, who had co-starred with Boseman in multiple Marvel films as Captain America stated: “He was a deeply committed and constantly curious artist. He had so much amazing work still left to create.”
Boseman’s boss, Disney chairman Bob Iger stated that aside from being an extraordinary talent, Boseman was one of the gentlest and giving souls he had ever met. While fighting colon cancer, not only did Boseman continue to work, but he also made time for terminally-ill children. He later broke down when he found out that they were trying to hold on to life in time for the release of Black Panther.
One of the last images Boseman shared on his Twitter account was a picture of him embracing Kamala Harris after she had been named the Vice-Presidential candidate for the American Democratic Party. Harris, who, like Boseman, had graduated from the historically black school, Howard University, wrote that the actor was “brilliant, kind, learned, and humble. He left too early but his life made a difference.”
Boseman’s activist leanings weren’t a surprise to anyone who knew him. When he landed the lead role in Black Panther, he admitted that he identified more with the film’s antagonist, Erik Killmonger. In the film, Killmonger is fueled by fury after facing injustice while living as a Black man in America.
As an actor, Boseman tempered his feelings for the role: “I was born with some Killmonger in me, and I have learned to T’Challa throughout my studies.”
The result was a smash hit. A fantastical slice of Afrofuturism, Black Panther portrayed the fictional country of Wakanda, which was a resource-rich African nation that was untouched by the evils of colonialism. T’Challa, who learned to become its king, was a wise and measured leader who balanced his emotions for the good of his people while fighting supervillains in his superhero suit.
Black Panther broke box office records and was the first Marvel film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. The timing of Black Panther was perfect. In a country where African Americans suffer from police brutality and bitter racial inequality, Boseman’s character was a role model for the country’s African American population.
Of course, as an actor, Boseman was so much more than his biggest role. As a student at Howard, he became involved with theatre acting and writing. Later, he travelled to Ghana with his theatre professor where he had an awakening.
Boseman landed TV roles but could never put his values before his career. During a recent speech at Howard, he told fresh graduates about how the producers of a TV show let him go for speaking up about his stereotypical Black role.
Some of his most memorable roles include his fantastic portrayal of Jackie Robinson, the first black athlete to play in Major League Baseball (MLB), in 42. His powerful performance caught the attention of Hollywood and paved the way for him to be the lead in Black Panther. Most recently, he starred in Spike Lee’s critically acclaimed war drama, Da 5 Bloods, as “Stormin’ ” Norman Earl Holloway.
According to his publicist Nicki Fioravante, Boseman died surrounded by those who loved him. His family said: “It was the honour of his career to bring King T’Challa to life in Black Panther.”
They also added that he persevered through countless surgeries and chemotherapy, to bring his fans the films they came to love. According to Fioravante, he is survived by his wife and a parent and, had no children.
To many people, Boseman was many things. He was a loving partner, a caring son, an outspoken activist, an empathetic advocate, and a gifted co-star. But for his fans, he was a talented performer taken too early. Rest in power, King.
Published in Dawn, ICON, September 6th, 2020