Chadwick Boseman. From the moment he appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Captain America: Civil War, you knew the fictional world would never be the same. The power he exuded standing, looking at the world below him before turning to face not only Black Widow but the audience as well. I was awestruck. Was this the same man who became indistinguishable during the Jackie Robinson biopic? The young man who stole scenes alongside Kevin Costner in Draft Day?
No. No, this was somebody else entirely. A man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. A beautiful, dark-toned man with a responsibility to be a superhero with poise and dignity. A hero that millions of little boys and girls would look at and, perhaps for the first time in their young lives, see themselves. Chadwick Boseman. Our King. A Howard University graduate and thespian who mastered his craft under the watchful eye of the world. Never folding or losing sight of what he was accomplishing.
He was changing our world.
African American men in the United States have the unalienable task of trying to convince the world that they are not who they have been made out to be. For centuries, those in power have attempted to paint Black men as savages, criminals, and monsters. Whether or not this was his intention, Boseman’s work went a long way towards painting a more nuanced picture of the Black American man. Best known for portraying a slew of American heroes on the big screen, Boseman got to laugh, cry, scream, fight, and win in scenarios based on true events.
For decades, Black actors were typecast as one-dimensional characters. Not Boseman. Not the roles he chose to embody. Fully fleshed out characters like the ones he played in Get On Up and Marshall adds to the legacies of both James Brown and Thurgood Marshall, making heroes out of household names. Additionally, his role in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods tells a story so foreign to many, Black men in the military serving a country refusing to serve them.
Chadwick was educated, carried himself with grace, integrity, and, in his real-life actions, gives an entire generation an icon all their own. Boseman is our Sidney Poitier, our Denzel Washington, our Danny Glover. Someone so unapologetically Black without being defined by race. What we saw was not a Black actor playing a Black character simply because he was Black. No. What we saw was an artist unafraid to work to provide an honest portrayal of the community he saw around him. No job was too small for Boseman. Moreover, no accolade was ever too above the cause. When watching Boseman accept awards, he never collapsed under the pressure of the audience. He hails his cast and crew members as integral parts of what he was blessed to create. If the spotlight was on him, he shared the shine.
And then there came T’Challa. The game-changer. In the months leading up to the release of Black Panther, Black people bought merchandise, made plans to view the film with loved ones, and hyped the excitement for this monumental moment. Not only was Boseman playing an African-born superhero, but he, along with Ryan Coogler, created a corner of the highest-grossing film franchise just for us. If the movie didn’t gross a billion dollars or earn its historic Best Picture nod, it would remain the same groundbreaking moment that it is. Because, for us, it opened the doors for more stories about us made for us and told by us.
November 29, 2020, was to be Chadwick Boseman’s 44th birthday. A legend has gone too soon. However, his legacy will live on as a role model, a brother, a friend, a king. In August, the world stood still as we collectively received the news of his silent battle with colon cancer, a battle he ultimately succumbed to. However, he never let his diagnosis define him. Nor did it stop him from doing what he knew millions counted on him to do: create art in which we can all see our own reflections.
Chadwick Boseman is unequivocally the very best of us. Forever our king. 💜
Chadwick Boseman will star in the upcoming film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, streaming on Netflix on December 18th.
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