The past two days have been weighing down on me heavily. I remember my family walking out of the cinema hall having watched Black Panther and being awestruck by the all-black ensemble working their magic on screen.
Having grown up with orchestrating fights between action figures that were all white-skinned, my brother finally had a hero to admire who looked like him. His face lit up with glee the first time this realization dawned on him. From then on, my mother started calling him T’Challa to motivate him and give him the strength to get back on his feet every time he felt low. Black Panther had made my brother and me, along with thousands of children across the globe, feel proud of our skin! This is a testament to how deep-rooted the impact of Chadwick Boseman’s representation of the iconic marvel superhero was.
He wasn’t just an inspiration for children though. Boseman played a pivotal role in promoting black representation in the industry and is the epitome of the cultural phenomenon that the Black Panther Revolution brought about. Furthermore, the movie had a successful box office run and recieved a number of Oscar nominations.
However, Boseman’s portrayal of King T’Challa is just one of the many ways in which fans around the world resonated with his brilliance and why so many mourn his sad demise on the 29th of August,2020.
In 2016, Chadwick was diagnosed with colon cancer. For the past four years, while frequently appearing in movies and press, he had been silently battling cancer. The unbelievable shock of his death, coupled with the new meaning of the defiance in his performances is beyond articulation. RDJ, however, put it best:
Chadwick Boseman graduated from Howard University in DC in the year 2000, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Directing. He went from being a drama instructor to a playwright and a director before landing an acting job in the daytime soap opera called ‘All My Children’. In the commencement speech he gave at his alma mater, Boseman mentioned that in this show, he had been fired over a few concerns he had pertaining to the character Chadwick was supposed to play. He’d brought up the fact that the writing was bogged down by racial stereotypes. Luckily this paved the way for a more authentic rendering of the same character in the future. His plays gathered accolades, he was hired for more television series and acted in his first feature film too.
Over the course of his fleetingly brief yet sweepingly illustrious career, Chadwick gave us many gifts wrapped in the dedication for his craft. He featured in several productions such as 21 Bridges and Da 5 Bloods. The former is an action thriller that sees him as an NYPD detective who chases down two cop killers by shutting down Manhattan’s 21 Bridges and trapping the suspects. The latter follows the journey of ageing Vietnam War veterans, one of whom is played by Chadwick who go back to the country in search of their fallen squad leader and a treasure they left behind.
In 2013, Boseman got his big break by being chosen for the role of the impeccable Jackie Robinson in the movie 42, the first black player to break the colour line in Major League Baseball in the modern era. Chadwick played the role with a captivating sincerity; for he himself knew how to rise above the ranks despite all the struggles that came with finding one’s footing in a white-dominated profession. Even just watching the trailer of this film gives me goosebumps.
He took on the role of the ever ebullient and ridiculously complicated James Brown in the musical drama ‘Get on Up’, released in 2014. This comes as no surprise as we all remain enamoured by Chadwick’s quiet charm and swagger every time he speaks! His grace and cheeky smile light up all his interviews, public appearances and award ceremonies. He was a true performer, just like the character he played.
In Marshall, Chadwick donned the suit of the first African American supreme court justice Thurgood Marshall where it focused on one of his very first but riveting cases where he fought against the State of Connecticut and for a man named Joseph Spell, who was a chauffeur accused of rape by his white employer.
I urge everyone to watch his stellar portrayals of the real-life heroes who were instrumental in forging the African American identity in their respective fields in biographical films. Through his art, he strived to depict and exemplify a world that he himself wanted to see come to fruition.
In the statement that his family released, they mentioned that it was the honour of his life to bring King T’Challa alive. I thus think it’s noteworthy to mention that in Wakandan mythology, when the soul of a man reaches the afterlife, it is brought by the goddess Bast and Sekhmet to a mythical green valley where it can run freely and in peace for all of eternity.
“In my culture, death is not the end. It’s more of a stepping off point. You reach out with both hands and Bast and Sekhmet, they lead you into a green veld where you can run forever.”
Had he given up in the year 2016, we’d have never had T’Challa, and that kind of resilience is only befitting of a true king. It was he who tempered despair with hope.
I am by no means religious but,
I pray for his legacy to live on, and for him not to be forgotten.
I pray for his family and co-stars to be strong through this tough time.
I pray for all the children like my own brother who are heartbroken right now.
I pray for his soul to rest in power even as I’m still having a hard time letting him go.
Boseman was also quite spiritual and used the following scripture to describe the legendary Denzel Washington who funded a mid-summer theatre program at Oxford that he couldn’t afford. These very words eulogize him now.
“Let he who has watered, be watered.”
This serves as a very bittersweet reminder of the fact that it is possible that everybody you’ve ever encountered in life is struggling with their own battles, even when it is not apparent. Taking care of the people around you and yourself is so incredibly important.
Be kind. Listen gently. Love freely.
Boseman was one of the finest black actors to have graced our screens and share his masterful strokes of artistry. He will be missed, but, as with anyone who expresses themselves in life, his work will make Chadwick live eternally. His courage, warmth, resolve and humility are immortalized.
Disclaimer: All views are personal.
Written by Shuba Murthy for MTTN
Featured Image from TIME Magazine, February 2018