Earlier this week, we tragically lost Chadwick Boseman at the young age of 43 after a four-year-long battle with colon cancer. To honour him, we wanted to take a moment to look back at the momentous career of Boseman and the legacy he has left in his wake.
The significance of Boseman to the African American community is immense, during his short career he played such inspirational icons as Jackie Robinson in 42, James Brown in Get on Up or Thurgood Marshal in Marshall, but it was his assertion of playing the title character in Marvel Studios’ first Black superhero film Black Panther that will be an enduring legacy.
Boseman’s portrayal of T’Challa, the King of Wakanda, quickly became a cultural phenomenon, Boseman’s poise and command on screen latched onto the zeitgeist during a time of large divided political, social and cultural identities – at a time when the United States was grappling with racism and xenophobia two years into President Donald Trump’s term.
Black movie stars that have preceded Boseman – such as Denzel Washington and Will Smith – all had a singular moment to which their careers became more than their physical appearance, and that same idea was echoed through the reception for Black Panther. The reception of Black Panther strongly affected the year of it’s release, and although none of the cast, including Boseman, received Oscar attention, Rami Malek, Regina King and Mahershala Ali all won Oscars for acting, the largest group of minority acting winners in the Academy’s history.
But Boseman’s contribution to cinema was never about himself. He wanted to see the larger, collective good brought to an art form that he was deeply infatuated with. The results didn’t just impact the scope in which Black cinema is now being expanded, as seen in Black cinema’s upcoming works by filmmakers such as Ava DuVernay, Barry Jenkins and Jordan Peele.
During his acceptance speech at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in early 2019 for Black Panther, Boseman shared about the experience of going through the publicity run and receiving frequent questions regarding the film’s anticipation “Did we know the movie was going to receive this kind of response? We knew we had something special that we wanted to give the world”
Having known the struggles Boseman was enduring, his resolve to maintain the importance of his art will not go unnoticed. Boseman, you will be remembered for your work but more importantly, the change you wanted to bring.