Chadwick Boseman was not only a once-in-a-lifetime actor, he was a once-in-a-lifetime human being.
While all of his roles were iconic and influential, it was his performance as King T’Challa, also known as the Black Panther, that made him a household name. Beyond Marvel and superheroes, Boseman also portrayed African American civil rights icons like Thurgood Marshall (the first African American Supreme Court Associate Justice), James Brown (a famous R&B singer, nicknamed the “King of Soul), and Jackie Robinson (the first African American to play in the MLB).
He passed away on August 28th, 2020, the same day the MLB celebrated their ’42 Day’ in honor of Jackie Robinson. His portrayal as Jackie in the movie 42 will pass the test of time, conveying his story for generations to come.
Boseman gave a commencement speech two years ago at his old stomping ground, Howard University. He made many remarkable points about the challenges we face in life, one of them being what he calls “The Hill.” Howard University has been given the nickname “the Hilltop,” with Boseman saying, “Everyday is leg day on this campus.” He then talked about how many universities are built on hilltops, to signify the amount of effort one has to put in to reach a place of enlightenment.
Boseman stated that every college student was climbing the “academic slope,” and there’s no greater feeling than reaching the top of that hill, but then there’s another one directly in front of you again. It may not be as big or as steep as the previous, or it may be steeper and the path more rough, but this is the game of life that we play.
Boseman’s words about “the hill” make me think about the many hills I aspire to climb in my life, and hopefully one day, after many hills have been climbed, there will be a green pasture waiting for me.
In this same speech, Boseman also talks about purpose. Not the purpose we wake up to in the morning, not the purpose of the sun rising in the east and setting in the west, but purpose as a whole. Purpose being why we do anything at all. And how every single one of us has a different purpose in life.
He went on to say; “You would rather find purpose than a job, or a career. Purpose crosses disciplines, purpose is an essential element of you, it is the reason you are standing here on this planet at this particular time in history. Remember, the struggles along the way are only there to shape you, for your purpose.”
This is just a small piece of this magnificent speech, which is overwhelming when I try to describe it in my own words. We should all watch the entire speech on youtube, so we can absorb his message from our own perspective.
Boseman studied directing at Howard, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in fine arts with a directing focus. He wrote, directed and starred in his first play in his junior year of high school, which was written in the aftermath of one of his classmates being shot and killed. Boseman studied directing plays with a hands-on approach, so he could be a director that could jump into the perspective of actors. He spent a majority of the early 2000s studying and perfecting his craft, before portraying some of the greatest icons in film and American history.
The first icon was Jackie Robinson in 2013’s 42. The film grasps what life was like in 1940s America. Robinson’s journey of being Major League Baseball’s first African-American player is nothing short of brutally inspirational. He was forced to overcome so many obstacles, including the racist scum that would stand in his way, trying to force a violent reaction. The film displays Robinson’s perseverance in the earliest years of his career. Not only that, it shows perseverance in its truest form. There are many moments where most people would have broken.
Boseman portrayed how much Jackie Robinson had to endure, and brought to life the perspective of someone teetering on the edge of their own sanity when trying to accomplish a dream; there were so many unnecessary blocks to a career that was difficult enough to achieve without the torment brought on by the systemic racism of both the league and country itself.
The following year, Boseman portrayed 1950’s R&B and Funk legend James Brown, one of the most important and influential names in entertainment in the last century, in the film Get on Up. Brown’s influence carried into the 1960s, when he became an important figure in quelling the civil unrest that occurred after the tragic assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Up until his death, Brown rightly deserved the nickname of “The King of Soul.” That being said, any actor would have struggled to try and fill the shoes of such an icon. But Boseman did it. He exuded the confidence and sheer will power of Brown; the work ethic that crowned him “The Hardest-Working Man in Show Business” was projected with utmost certainty by Chadwick Boseman.
In 2016, Boseman starred in the role that made him and the character he played a household name, that being King T’Challa also known as the Black Panther. The Marvel character first appeared in the Fantastic Four #52 comic in July of 1966, and has since been a staple of African-American protagonists in fiction. Today, Black Panther is one of the most commonly referred to Marvel heroes because of the powerful performance by Boseman over the course of four films.
Boseman first portrayed Black Panther in 2016’s 3Ci>Captain America: Civil War, introducing the character as a seeker of justice for the death of his father. Boseman’s Black Panther provides a neutral bridge in the film, not necessarily siding with the beliefs of Steve Rodgers or Tony Stark, becoming the only main character to really be driven by his own motives, first fighting like all characters for vengeful purposes, but eventually stopping himself from killing the man who killed his father.
Boseman continued in the role in 2018’s Black Panther, which became the highest grossing film with an African-American lead and one of the highest grossing films of all time. The same year and in 2019, Boseman was a part of the two part Avengers finale: Infinity War and Endgame. Infinity War became the highest grossing movie of 2018 and Endgame is the highest grossing film of all time. Throughout all of these movies, Boseman’s character always seems to know the right thing to do. But when he visits his father in the afterlife, that is the one moment where T’Challa is able to admit his uncertainty about taking on his father’s responsibilities as King, with Boseman phenomenally portrayed attributes of vulnerability and strength.
This performance almost feels parallel to Boseman’s life; he was able to give these phenomenal performances as King T’Challa/Black Panther in the MCU while battling Stage III eventually progressing to Stage IV colon cancer. The actor kept his condition private; it’s unclear what his motives were by doing so but this sends a message to everyone about Boseman’s inspiring strength.
My words do not do full justice to what this man accomplished, what he represented, and who he was as an actor, writer, director, and humanitarian. Goodbye Chadwick, you will be missed by all.