News that Wakanda Forever King Chadwick Boseman, 43, died last Friday hit Black Panther fans like a tonne of bricks. Diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016, the illustrious African American actor went on to play a range of iconic Black characters despite the chemotherapy he silently endured these last four years.
Tributes immediately flooded in on social media from across Hollywood and the world. Everyone from Barack Obama and Denzel Washington to Kamala Harris and Samuel L. Jackson expressed their shock and heartfelt sorrow at Boseman’s demise.
A graduate of Howard University and Oxford’s British Academy of Dramatic Acting thanks to his UK tuition being covered by Denzel, Boseman paid tribute to his mentor and role model at the 2019 American Film Institute’s night honouring the Black elder statesman of film.
His humility, grace and eloquence signalled the passing of a baton from the brilliant Denzel to the younger actor destined to embody a Black Renaissance in American film.
Following Oxford, Chadwick got his professional start in TV, featuring in sit-coms like ER and Law and Order. But his big break came when he starred as the first Black athlete to break into America’s top summer sport, baseball in ‘42’.
Jackie Robinson’s battle with white supremacists was no different from what Black Lives Matter activists are fighting today, only that Robinson’s athleticism and heroic resilience won him the mantle of being called ‘the greatest sportsman of the 20th century.’
Boseman’s stunning performance as Robinson was just the first of several iconic roles in which he played great Black men who have already made indelible marks on African American history.
Following ‘42’ (2013) in which he co-starred with Harrison Ford (aka ‘Indiana Jones’), Chadwick sang and moon danced as James Brown, the R&B king of funk in Get on Up (2014).
In 2017, he starred in the bio-pic Marshall, portraying Thurgood Marshall, the first Black Supreme Court Justice who fought with the NAACP for Black civil rights in the 1950s.
And in 2020, he starred in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods where he prophetically played a dead war vet, speaking to his Vietnam war buddies from the grave.
But it was in 2015 that he got pegged by Marvel’s Kevin Fiege to be Wakanda King and Black Panther.
He would feature as T’Challa in several Avenger films, including Captain America: Civil War and Marvel’s biggest box office hit, Avengers: End Game.
But without a doubt, it is as Black Panther that Chadwick has left his deepest mark on cinema history.
His performance in the sci-fi fantasy imagining a powerful and self-sufficient Black kingdom is a film classic marking a turning point in the Black Renaissance.
For not only does it explore issues of race, identity and heritage.
In Chadwick’s view, the film also exposed “…the conflict between Africans and African Americans [which has] existed since colonialism and slavery.”
Chadwick was born in Anderson, South Carolina and passed on in Los Angeles at home with his wife, Taylor Simone Cedward and family.