Chadwick Boseman was an actor of immense skill and versatility. However, Boseman’s talent wasn’t limited to the big screen, and he had great impact on the world around him. After his death was announced Friday, the world was left to cope with the loss of a man who challenged the stereotypes and gave a generation of children an idol to look up to.
Where was Boseman born?
Boseman was born on November 29, 1976, in Anderson, North Carolina. From a young age, Boseman showed talent as an actor, writer, and director. While attending T.L. Hanna High School, Boseman wrote and staged his first play, titled Crossroads, after a classmate was shot and killed. The young director graduated in 1995 and then attended Howard University in Washington D.C., where he obtained a BFA in directing. One of his teachers was none other than Phylicia Rashad of Cosby Show fame, and an active leader and advocate in the Black community. Rashad and friend and famous actor Denzel Washington helped raised money to send Boseman and a few classmates to a summer acting program at Oxford with the British American Drama Academy. Boseman then attended the Digital Film Academy in New York City.
Boseman’s career has its roots in writing and directing, but acting classes led to his most well-known roles
The young director’s first television role came in the form of an episode of Third Watch, but Boseman encountered difficulty on his next role later that year. Boseman was cast on the soap serial All My Children but expressed concerns to the producers that his character was rife with racial stereotypes. As a result, Boseman was replaced with future Black Panther co-star Michael B. Jordan. The young actor found success in roles on ER, Law & Order, CSI: NY, and Lincoln Heights.
From TV star to movie star
Boseman rocketed to stardom when he starred in his first feature film 42 in 2013. In the movie, Boseman’s role as baseball legend and first Black Major League Baseball player, Jackie Robinson. In a BlackTree TV interview, Boseman talked about his experience playing Robinson and how he felt the movie would further the conversation on racial injustice, “I am proud to play Jackie Robinson. And I feel like those barriers will eventually come down. They will come down. And I’m glad that I’m continuing that tradition of expanding people’s barriers. I think that’s why you do the movie. You have to show the sickness or expose the sickness in order to get rid of it.”
Boseman played an eerily accurate James Brown
Boseman wasn’t finished playing Black icons, as his next major role was as James Brown in Get On Up. Brown’s daughter was involved in filming, and spoke in an interview about how amazed she was at Boseman’s skill in capturing her father’s spirit, “‘He truly incorporated dad within him and his soul,’ Deanna Brown Thomas said. ‘He studied, he read books, he talked to the right people. And when he was in character, everybody had to call him Mr Brown on the set, whether they were filming or not. He kept his composure, he kept his craft.’ She said she marveled at one particular scene in the film where he recreated Brown’s walk.
‘Man when I tell you he walked like my dad it – was just surreal that he had that walk,’ she said. ‘He had his nuances, he had his little wave, little things that we told him, he did it… he was phenomenal.'”
More iconic roles
In 2017, he was cast in the role of Thurgood Marshall in Marshall. And in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, Boseman visited the trauma of America’s racist roots and grappled with scars left by the Vietnam War.
Black Panther smashes barriers
In 2016, Boseman again played a major role as superhero T’Challa akaBlack Panther, the first featured Black superhero. After appearing in Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa was given his own film in Black Panther in 2018. Black Panther was a game changer for a generation of superhero fans; Black children who finally saw themselves represented on-screen.
7 times the mega-star was bigger than life
Boseman didn’t just represent Panther on screen, he was a superhero in real life too in many ways. We revisit 7 times Boseman was a real-life superhero and gave life to fans who came to love him and who mourn him deeply in the wake of his death:
- Giving encouragement to children battling cancer while fighting his own silent battle: In 2018, Boseman visited cancer patients at St. Jude’s Children Hospital. Although fans were unaware of his years-long battle with colon cancer at the time, his spirit gave courage to the little ones he visited. Boseman spoke about his experience working with the kids while filming Black Panther in an interview with SiriusXM, “There are two little kids, Ian and Taylor, who recently passed from cancer, and throughout our filming, I was communicating with them knowing that they were both terminal. What [their parents said to me] is that they’re trying to hold on until this movie comes out. And, to a certain degree, you hear them say that and you’re like, ‘wow. that’s, like, I’ve got to get up and go to the gym. I’ve got to get up and go to work. I’ve got to learn these lines and work on this accent… …It’s a humbling experience because it’s like, ‘this can’t mean that much to them.’ But seeing how the world has taken this on, seeing how the movement has taken on a life of it’s own, I realize that they anticipated something great. I think back now to [being a kid] waiting for Christmas to come… …I did live life waiting for those moments. And so it put me back in the mind of being a kid, just to experience those two little boys’ anticipation of this movie. And when I found out that they-” Boseman paused, and sat quietly for a long moment, wrestling with emotions, as tears rolled down his cheeks, ‘-yeah. It means a lot.'”
- Passing the Panther mask on to Victor Oladipo to score a slam dunk: The day after Black Panther hit theaters in February 2018, Boseman and co-star Jordan attended an NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Indiana Pacers star Victor Oladipo approach Boseman and Jordan who were sitting court-side. Boseman passed the mask to Oladipo, and the pair exchanged the arms-crossed Wakandan salute from Black Panther. Oladipo nailed a slam dunk with the mask on, giving NBA and Black Panther fans everywhere a loving nod. Although it was a pre-arranged publicity gesture, it gave heart and courage to fans who watched.
- Boseman fought to preserve African heritage in the course of creating Black Panther. Producers almost gave T’Challa an American or British accent, but Boseman fought back. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Boseman explains his experience, “He worked with a trainer, a strength and conditioning coach — and a dialect coach. The idea of the character having an African accent — Xhosa, specifically — was briefly a point of contention between him and Marvel. ‘They felt that it was maybe too much for an audience to take,’ Boseman acknowledges. ‘I felt the exact opposite — like, if I speak with a British accent, what’s gonna happen when I go home?’ He continues, ‘It felt to me like a deal-breaker,’ adding, ‘I was like, ‘No, this is such an important factor that if we lose this right now, what else are we gonna throw away for the sake of making people feel comfortable?'”
- His commencement speech at his alma mater Howard University: As Boseman presented a commencement speech to the class of 2018, his eloquence and passion were on full display. Boseman shared words of encouragement and talked about the struggles his fellow Howard U attendees may have faced to find themselves on that stage. He also shared an anecdote about coming across Muhammad Ali while on campus, “I remember walking across this yard on what seemed to be a random day, my head down lost in my own world of issues like many of you do daily. I’m almost at the center of the yard. I raised my head and Muhammad Ali was walking towards me. Time seemed to slow down as his eyes locked on mine and opened wide. He raised his fist to a quintessential guard. I was game to play along with him, to act as if I was a worthy opponent. What an honor to be challenged by the GOAT, the greatest of all time, for a brief moment. His face was as serious as if I was Frazier in the Thrilla in Manila. His movements were flashes of a past greater than I can imagine. His security let the joke play along for a second before they ushered him away, and I walked away floating like a butterfly. I walked away amused at him, amused at myself, amused at life for this moment that almost no one would ever believe. I walked away light and ready to take on the world. That is the magic of this place. Almost anything can happen here.” Boseman also detailed his battle with the All My Children producers who he stood up to when his character was cast with an absent criminal father and a drug-addicted mother. He concluded with these words in part, “Graduating class, hear me well on this day. This day, when you have reached the hilltop and you are deciding on next jobs, next steps, careers, further education, you would rather find purpose than a job or career. Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember, the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose. When I dared to challenge the system that would relegate us to victims and stereotypes with no clear historical backgrounds, no hopes or talents, when I questioned that method of portrayal, a different path opened up for me, the path to my destiny.When God has something for you, it doesn’t matter who stands against it. God will move someone that’s holding you back away from the door and put someone there who will open it for you if it’s meant for you. I don’t know what your future is, but if you are willing to take the harder way, the more complicated one, the one with more failures at first than successes, the one that has ultimately proven to have more meaning, more victory, more glory then you will not regret it.”
- Marrying in secret: A romantic at heart, Boseman proposed to girlfriend Taylor Simone in October 2019. The pair is thought to have tied the knot about six months ago, amidst Boseman’s battle with cancer.
- His acceptance speech after winning a SAG-AFTRA award for Best Film in 2019: It was a ground-breaking award for the first major feature film with both an all-Black directing crew as well as almost all-Black cast. Traditionally, Black films are passed over for top honors but Panther blasted away the competition, and Boseman’s speech is one for the record books, saying in part, “To be young, gifted and Black, 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. That is what we went to work with every day because we knew — not that we would be around during award season or that it would make a billion dollars, but we knew we had something special that we wanted to give the world. That we could be full human beings in the roles that we were playing, that we could create a world that exemplified a world that we wanted to see. We knew that we had something that we wanted to give. And to come to work with every day and to solve problems with this group of people every day, with this director, that is something that I wish all actors would get the opportunity to experience. If you get to experience that, you will be a fulfilled artist.”
- All the times he helped fans and those in need: Boseman had a reputation for surprising fans and reaching out to those in need. After Hurricane Harvey devastated Southeast Texas, Boseman shared a video to Twitter imploring people to, “stand in the gap,” and help. The actor and director was involved in Black Lives Matter and spoke out daily in pursuit of racial justice and the fight for equality.
Boseman leaves behind a tremendous legacy, and fans will never forget
Boseman died Friday, August 28th, 2020, after a 4-year-old battle with cancer that he kept private. This means the iconic actor was starring in some of the biggest films of all time, and the biggest roles of his life, while undergoing surgeries and chemotherapy. Boseman embodied courage, strength, wisdom, intelligence, and tenacity. His career and personal life paint a legacy of a main unafraid to fight the system, and determined to be a part of the solution of wresting racial injustice from the fabric of American society. Boseman was an icon for young Black girls and boys eager to see themselves in the faces of the superheroes they love, and for Black men and women who waited long years to feel seen. The actor was a reminder to everyone to challenge stereotypes and to find beauty in great accomplishment. Boseman will be desperately missed by family, friends, and fans who will never forget him as a person or a character.