It was around 10:12pm on Friday while scrolling my Facebook haphazardly where I first read the breaking news article. “Black Panther Star Chadwick Boseman dies of cancer at 43.”
“What?” I audibly said to myself. It felt like a hoax. I quickly clicked on to read, and, suddenly, 2020 had become more unbearable than it already was.
Chadwick Boseman had been diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016. He had kept it private for the last four years until his passing. Throughout this time, he brought us titles like Marshall, 21 Bridges, Da 5 Bloods, Avengers: End Game and his claim to fame, Black Panther. Not only did this man work tirelessly and passionately to bring us these films while going through countless treatments, surgeries, and chemotherapy; he primarily dedicated his career playing real-life Black historical figures. Legends like Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and Thurgood Marshall with strong Black narratives.
While T’Challa is a fictional character, Chadwick Boseman breathed life into the role. He carried the mantle of royalty of Black Panther as if he had been born into it. For many Black people and POC, he was truly King T’Challa. With everything going on in the world regarding the Black Lives Matter movement and all the police brutality filling our news and social media, Boseman’s death feels like another blow. This loss is an added layer of grief for Black America in these dark times.
Boseman found his destiny as T’Challa/Black Panther. He was aware of the cultural impact this film provided for Black people who felt overlooked in the superhero genre and the fight for equality. Black Panther is more than a superhero action movie. It showed the world the beauty and diversity of African culture, finally giving Black and POC representation they could stand by and providing pride that they should have in being descendants from Africa.
Black Panther‘s success made history with its majority Black cast, box office success, six Oscar nominations and four Oscar wins, including Best Costume Design for Ruth E. Carter (she also made history as the first Black woman to win an Academy Award for costume design). Chadwick Boseman also made history by showing Hollywood it could profit from providing the world with narratives that have more diverse representation.
In the Twitter statement released by Chadwick’s estate, it was noted that his Black Panther role was the “honor of his career.” An honor he did for all of us playing a role for which he was perfectly cast. A role full of humanity as the graceful and fearless leader of Wakanda. A role he did while privately displaying heroism of his own that involved playing such a physically demanding character while diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer.
In late March, Boseman posted a video on his Instagram page promoting Operation 42, an initiative aimed at helping people of color across the United States of America battling COVID-19. However, many fans were distracted by Chadwick’s thin appearance. Usually, Marvel actors stay in shape after filming. While everyone in the country was in quarantine due to the ongoing pandemic, many fans felt concerned for his well-being. Many people speculated and articles were written pointing out his skinny structure. Even as he weakened, he was working on strengthening others. While being judged for his appearance, he held on to his privacy. This serves as a lesson to all of us. We never know what is really going on in people’s lives and shouldn’t judge them for their appearance or otherwise. The tongue is a powerful weapon that should be used wisely.
To quote T’Challa “… In times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.”
Losing Chadwick Boseman hurts on a deeper level, because we lost someone who represented a moment in time when little Black boys and girls got to see themselves as royalty. They felt seen and heard in a country that typically ignores and brutally kills them. Chadwick’s loss is tremendous. There is no doubt he has left behind a legacy and has made Black history in more ways than one. The Friday of his passing was Jackie Robinson Day, honoring the legend who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball whom Chadwick portrayed in 42 (2013). August 28th was also the anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that occurred in 1963. The very march that the great Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech where he called for an end to racism.
Now it will be also be remembered as the day we lost a true talent, humanitarian, and an activist. The day we lost a superhero and a King.