The death of Chadwick Boseman on August 28 hit loud and hard. Though just one of many stops on the mile-long list of sick turn of events this year, Boseman’s death feels especially heavy. It was sudden and shocking. Almost no one knew of his cancer diagnosis. Still, he leaves us with cinematic greatness, a legacy though cut short, that will endure forever.
The announcement of Boseman’s death came on Friday evening. A social media post explained he had been battling colon cancer since 2016, which progressed from stage 3 to stage 4 over the last 4 years. The explanation highlighted that Boseman brought Black Panther, Thurgood Marshall and Stormin’ Norm, among others, to life between surgeries and chemotherapy.
Hollywood swiftly took to social media to honor Boseman’s passing. “Black Panther” co-star Michael B. Jordan’s reflection put it best. “Everything you’ve given the world… the legends and heroes that you’ve shown us we are… we live on forever,” he wrote. “‘Is this your king?’ Yes. he. Is!”
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I’ve been trying to find the words, but nothing comes close to how I feel. I’ve been reflecting on every moment, every conversation, every laugh, every disagreement, every hug…everything. I wish we had more time. One of the last times we spoke, you said we were forever linked , and now the truth of that means more to me than ever. Since nearly the beginning of my career, starting with All My Children when I was 16 years old you paved the way for me. You showed me how to be better, honor purpose, and create legacy. And whether you’ve known it or not…I’ve been watching, learning and constantly motivated by your greatness. I wish we had more time. Everything you’ve given the world … the legends and heroes that you’ve shown us we are … will live on forever. But the thing that hurts the most is that I now understand how much of a legend and hero YOU are. Through it all, you never lost sight of what you loved most. You cared about your family , your friends, your craft, your spirit. You cared about the kids, the community, our culture and humanity. You cared about me. You are my big brother, but I never fully got a chance to tell you, or to truly give you your flowers while you were here. I wish we had more time. I'm more aware now than ever that time is short with people we love and admire. I’m gonna miss your honesty, your generosity, your sense of humor, and incredible gifts. I’ll miss the gift of sharing space with you in scenes. I’m dedicating the rest of my days to live the way you did. With grace, courage, and no regrets. “Is this your king!?” Yes . he . is! Rest In Power Brother.
A career worth celebrating
Boseman’s launch into Hollywood came relatively late, but his trajectory should be revered by any aspiring actor. As reported by Rolling Stone, he grew up in South Carolina, moved to attend Howard University and studied theater one summer at Oxford (infamously funded by Denzel Washington). After a string of television jobs and minor roles in a couple of films, Boseman nabbed the part of Jackie Robinson in “42” at age 35. In 2014, he extended his roster of playing historical figures by trading a bat for a microphone. Though some critics blasted “Get On Up” for its surface-level adaptation of James Brown’s life, Boseman was applauded for his electrifying performance.
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I know we’re all, collectively, mourning the loss of one of the greatest talents in Hollywood history, BUT, if you haven’t seen it, check out Chadwick Boseman's MAGNIFICENT performance in “Get On Up” – a movie that got mixed reviews (to put it generously) but that I greatly enjoyed when it came out. He was the full package, the real deal – a good old fashioned MOVIE STAR in every way. Action, comedy, drama, song and dance, he could do it all. Man oh man will he be missed. (Photo by Gasper Tringale)
With his role as T’Challa alone, Boseman made his mark on pop culture history. As Clint Smith wrote in The Atlantic, “It became difficult to see Boseman without thinking of the Black Panther, without wanting to thank him for giving us something we had not had before.” The film made over $200 million in its opening weekend and ended up grossing over $1.3 billion worldwide. On a technical level, “Black Panther” is a good movie. More importantly though, it brought diversity to a very white cinematic universe, invigorating kids like the students at Ron Clark Academy. Their reaction to the news that they would all be seeing the movie went viral.
A dynamic legacy
The outpouring of support and success of “Black Panther” affirms the necessity of representation in media. Smith also summarized the significance of the phenomenon: “I know that Black people, Black children in particular, from across the country, and the world, seeing themselves on-screen as characters who have never before been depicted in film will have an impact that cannot be quantified.” And because Boseman was at the center of it all, he was the symbol for a possibly evolving Hollywood. It was Black excellence under a massive spotlight.
It feels eerie that Boseman’s last released film before his death (his final role is “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) featured him as a symbolic catalyst who died too soon. Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” follows 4 African American veterans who, during the Vietnam War, made a promise to come back for their hidden stash of gold and the body remains of Stormin’ Norman. Stormin’ was their leader, a fearless soldier who preached Black liberation— a mission he instilled in his fellow bloods. Honoring his legacy complicated the bloods’ journey to acquiring the gold, but cemented his impact on their lives. Early on, Clarke Peters’ Otis describes Stormin’ in a way that could be about Boseman, highlighting his leadership and emotional control.
“He gave us something to believe in. A direction, a purpose,” Otis says. “He was our Malcolm and our Martin. Norm had a way of keeping us from going off.”