I, like many, woke on Saturday to the news that that actor Chadwick Boseman had died.
His four year private battle with cancer was news that only amplified the shock of his passing.
Because of this sudden, tragic loss, I felt compelled to write something for him on fivethreeninety.
Aged just 42, Chadwick was an example of an individual who became much larger than just one man. His career spanned a short time, but was of unfathomable cultural significance. He played iconic Black roles; some real heroes such as Jackie Robinson in 42 and James Brown in Get On Up; before becoming Marvel’s first Black protagonist superhero in the record breaking Black Panther.
His role as Wakandan ruler, King T’Challa (first seen onscreen in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War), was truly the peak of his impact, and saw him become as much a King to his people offscreen as he was onscreen.
He was a phenomenal actor, and seemed a genuinely caring, compassionate person – indeed, those who did know him have said as such.
In this time, I wanted to use my small platform to amplify Black voices at a time of pain for the community.
Wakanda represents a connection to a homeland much of the black community has long lost. It symbolised much of what might have been, in a truly powerful use of fiction. Beyond the sci-fi vibranium and superhero powers, it was an African state that through the medium of cinema many could finally feel a connection to, a celebration of Black beauty, culture, and excellence.
As an intentionally idealised figure, T’Challa is a character that is often lacking in black representation – one of strength, dignity, and power. It feels almost impossible to convey to non-Black friends what this portrayal meant, and how it felt, especially as Chadwick Boseman more than rose to the challenge of playing him. Boseman was the ruler of a kingdom that we were never able to appreciate in real life. To know he played a character that changed how millions of Black people saw themselves while struggling to survive is a sacrifice that will never be forgotten.
As an aspiring actor who read all the comic books as a child I must say, I was initially heartbroken when I found out that Black Panther had finally been included in the MCU, as I’d always dreamed of playing that character one day.
Although I had no right to be, I was bitter, envious and I was upset. But when I viewed Civil War in cinemas I was shell shocked at the sheer brilliance Chadwick bought to the character, and those feelings soon changed to that of awe and admiration.
We tend to get caught up in how the best of us die but today we’re going to celebrate how you lived. Your philanthropy, innovation and sheer sacrifice to bring hope to many of us black creatives is truly mesmerising. And by God’s Grace we will do everything in our power to ensure your work was not in vain. WE WILL continue and finish what you’ve started.
Last but not least, I just want to say Thank You🖤
“In our culture, death is not the end, It’s more of a stepping off point”
Rest In Power🌹✊🏾
Young, gifted & black.
There are moments in your life, whether it’s a second, a week or over a year where you are inspired, motivated and challenged to be better. Sadly, these moments mainly come from trauma or difficult times. This overall year has been full of losses for my community, the black community. From leaders, to artists and brave, trailblazing activists. It doesn’t get any easier to grieve those who have changed the world for the better.
On the 29th August i woke up at 8am and checked my phone. My heart stopped and i had to catch my breath. Seeing “Chadwick Boseman has passed from a 4-year battle with colon cancer” did not register clearly in my mind. I feel very distant from death. I have not quite grasped the idea that someone can be so selfless, talented, and a positive role model in this world and still be taken from us in a second. Chadwick Boseman had an iconic career. Always choosing roles to display excellence from my community, to display hope and represent so authentically what the black experience actually is as well as showcasing how varied we are. Chadwick was great at showing we are not just about the trauma we deal with daily, but the talent, culture and traditions we share across the world, the ones that make us unique.
These past couple of days i have come across stories of the type of man Chadwick was. Personal stories of how he always was polite, regal and caring for who he was around. As much as he was a wonderful person, he was honest and spoke up for what he believed in. He constantly called out on sets he walked onto if it was not diverse enough, he constantly used his moments of wins to shine a light on what was important to him, and most importantly he did everything selflessly. Nothing was for the intent of personal attention or accolade, showcasing brilliance was important to him and still is across black creatives. He gave us his last few years of his battle with cancer, delivering superb performances that generations of black people/children can watch and be inspired and feel represented by. When Chadwick spoke you were captivated, this man made you hold onto his every word. There is a speech I will quote that made an impact on me:
“We all know what it’s like to be told that there is not a place for you to be featured. Yet you are young, gifted and Black. We know what it’s like to be told there’s not a screen for you to be featured on, a stage for you to be featured on. We know what it’s like to be the tail and not the head. We know what it’s like to be beneath and not above.”
Sometimes we forget that with wealth and fame, celebrities still face the battles we go through daily. Seeing someone of his success speaking about how a lot of us black people feel; ignored, under represented, not good enough and never the main character in life, made me think. Chadwick as mentioned already had an established career yet he still had to on top of that, fight everyday battles a lot of black people do. In terms of Hollywood that could be again, calling out lack of diversity on set or requesting someone doing his hair and makeup who actually is experienced with black hair and black skin. His actions however big or small, had a ripple effect on the industry. Black creatives should be made to feel confident to bring up ideas, to call out when something is wrong and i truly believe Chadwick is one of many who has opened the door and made this more possible across the world.
Chadwick had his programme at Oxford University paid for by Denzel Washington. As he said, without Denzel there would be no Black Panther. Knowing his last film, he worked on was working with Denzel has at least given me a full circle view. It was always meant to be. When i was 20 i went to see Black Panther. Growing up superheroes were always the common ones, Batman & Superman mainly. I never had a superhero who looked like me or anyone in my family. I didn’t even see a superhero who looked after my community on screen. I remember the hype around the release, there were black people who went to the cinema in traditional dress, the community promoting it everywhere and cinema screens packed every night. The film did not disappoint. All i could feel was relieved that at last, i was watching a black cast being displayed in their true beauty and strength, through royalty, family, love and forgiveness. Wakanda was a super advanced nation, there were strong black female leads who were intelligent, who ran the family and made decisions for themselves. People often underestimate the power of representation. Representation allows people to have hope, to feel like they can achieve their dreams. It provides self-belief. These are important feelings to have from a young age and can impact how well someone does in their life. I feel blessed i was able to witness the feelings and emotions we all felt watching Black Panther for the first time. All I can think about is how I excited I am to show my future children a black superhero movie. A group of characters who were beautifully flawed and cultured.
I want to highlight that invisible disease and illnesses are more common than you know. Chadwick’s decision to keep his cancer private whether intended this way or not, allowed us to appreciate his art for what it was without the media focusing on his cancer. Again, in my eyes another selfless act. Please understand that we should not glorify or condemn anyone’s actions when dealing with their illness. There is no right way to manage a massive health problem.
Chadwick said in a wonderful tribute to Denzel Washington “Let he who has watered, be watered.” I know that in these past few years we showed profound love and respect to Mr Boseman, shown true appreciation for the art he created, been inspired by the constant work to help our community have opportunities, equality and deserved spotlight. I can only hope he felt watered.
What i would like everyone to take from this man’s incredible life is selflessness and empathy. This has been a tough year; life is not always easy. Yet in bad times we must show faith and unity. I am in awe of how Chadwick constantly carried himself and made others feel despite personal or professional adversity. I vow personally, to continuously work hard to make positive change for the black community and i hope we all come together to continue his legacy.
My condolences and prayers to the Boseman Family.
Rest in Power King.
Thank you to Charlie, Kai and Sirayah for your words – I am so thankful to be able to host them.
My deepest sympathies go to Chadwick’s family, in particular his wife Taylor Simone Ledward. I am also, of course, thinking of the people worldwide that he really mattered to.
Chadwick Boseman truly was a pioneer in his short time. His mark on the world will be felt for generations for come.
I will finish this tribute today with this video from two years ago: where Chadwick surprised fans who were all there to specifically thank him. I think his impact is clearer here than ever.