“You are a good man with a good heart, and it is hard for a good man to be king.” – T’Chaka to his son T’Challa, Black Panther, 2018.
When I saw Black Panther in 2018, I called it “one of the most important and relevant [superhero] films of our generation.” In my opinion, that sentiment has only grown stronger. Behind every great movie is a great actor to carry it, and Black Panther owes its success, in no small part, to Chadwick Boseman, who passed away last Friday from colon cancer, which he had been battling in private for four years.
In a statement to the press, Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, described Boseman as a man who “radiated charisma and joy, and… created something truly indelible.” Former President Barack Obama, quoted in People, said: “To be young, gifted, and Black; to use that power to give them heroes to look up to; to do it all while in pain – what a use of his years.” Ryan Coogler, the director of Black Panther, described Boseman as “a caretaker, a leader, and a man of faith.”. (You can read his full, official statement here.)
Chadwick Boseman starred in an incredible 15 film roles over the course of his career, seven of them following his cancer diagnosis in 2016. In addition to starring in fictitious roles, he also took on the mantle of some of America’s influential Black citizens, from major-league baseball player Jackie Robison (42, 2008) to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (Marshall, 2017). But perhaps one of his best-known and most-cherished roles was that of King T’challa, aka Black Panther. The recurring role (Civil War, 2016; Black Panther, 2018; Avengers: Infinity War, 2018; Avengers: Endgame, 2019) left an impact on both the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well as on the sociopolitical impact of superhero films as a whole.
With a box office at $1.347 billion, Black Panther was the first of the Marvel movies to win an Academy Award (Best Costume Design, Best Original Score, and Best Production Design), as well as the first “superhero” film to get a nomination for Best Picture. Its commercial success speaks to a deeper cultural impact. The first Marvel movie to feature a predominantly Black cast, Black Panther offered a generation of Black children the superhero representation that had been lacking from the prior 17 MCU films. It was a nuanced, emotionally impactful movie that did not shy away from racial topics but treated all of its characters (even the villains) with dignity and honor. Boseman, as T’Challa, gave power and emotion to a performance that represented important political and social questions within the context of a fictional world, and in doing so, transcended the superhero genre into something more meaningful. He brought depth and soul to his characters, and in turn, allowed his characters to speak to modern issues and real concerns about racial justice in modern America.
Boseman’s death, at the age of 43, came on August 28th, which is, fittingly enough, Jackie Robinson Day.
At the 2018 Howard University commencement speech, Boseman describes struggles in life as being “meant to shape you for your purpose,” and encouraged the graduating class to “press on with pride and press on with purpose.” Remembered as curious, kind, inspiring, and driven, Chadwick’s death leaves an absence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that cannot (and perhaps should not) be filled. Yet his legacy remains. With regality and gravitas, Boseman’s performances left an impact that will survive him for generations to come. He gave audiences of all colors something to aspire to and embodied his role as the King of Wakanda with the bearing of true royalty. Graceful, inspirational, and humble, Boseman was not merely a fictional hero, but a cultural one. He famously said he’d “rather have an action figure than a Golden Globe.”
Chadwick Boseman is survived by his wife, Taylor Simone Ledward, and his parents, Leroy and Carolyn Boseman.
His death has impacted countless fans. To those fans, we offer this wisdom from King T’Challa himself: “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.”
Yimbambe. Wakanda Forever.