Chadwick Boseman brought the comic book character to life, endearing himself to Black audiences everywhere – nerds and non-nerds alike.
The King is dead. Long live our King T’Challa. I type that with no amount of shade or sarcasm – I’m actually tearing up again as I do so. On Aug. 28, it was announced that actor Chadwick Boseman had passed away from colon cancer at the age of 43, too young and too suddenly. According to the Associated Press, Boseman was diagnosed four years ago and dealt with his condition privately;” he died in Los Angeles with his wife and parents beside him.
Boseman was born and raised in Anderson, South Carolina. From his first roles, he stood up for Black representation. He originated the role of Jackson Montgomery’s adopted son Reggie in All My Children in 2003 but said he was fired after voicing concerns to producers about racist stereotypes in the script, according to a 2019 interview with the Wrap.
In his career, Boseman made it a habit to portray Black legends and icons in their prime. His notable roles include James Brown in 2014’s Get on Up, Thurgood Marshall in Marshall and Jackie Robinson in 42, my favorite Black sports movie. In a horrible twist, Boseman’s death coincided with Jackie Robinson Day celebrations being held by MLB.
Boseman was most well and recently known for portraying the Black Panther in the titular movie – and connected films – debuting the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the first time with an incredibly distinct, unapologetic presentation of Afrofuturism, Black history and power.
“He brought Black Panther to life – pure and simple,” says Andre Batts, owner of Urban Style Comics based in Detroit. “Chadwick gave Black creators real confidence to go out and leave their mark on the industry. He brought positive notice to Black heroes and what they can do. When the movie came out, it was inspiring across the board. His death is sad, but he always stood for keeping the movement going.”
Very few celebrity deaths make me shed tears. The last tragic loss that moved me so incredibly was Kobe Bryant. When my mother woke me up Friday and told me Chadwick Boseman died, I wanted desperately for her to be mistaken. The poignant storytelling and beautiful blend of symbolism, culture and fantasy in Black Panther captivated even non-comic book fans.
The battle of wills and ideologies represented by Killmonger and T’Challa’s clash resonated with all corners of the Black community. But as a loud and proud Black nerd girl raised by an old head Black nerd, hearing that the man who helped bring Wakanda to life in a way that stunned the industry was dead was especially hurtful.
We’ve had Black characters and “diversity” in superhero movies before. But Boseman’s portrayal of T’Challa was more than just a two-second glimpse of brown skin in a cool role to meet a quota, or a token role given shine to appease the internet. To those who knew the character best, Boseman’s T’Challa was successful because he was multifaceted and human.
He understood that his nation and creed wasn’t perfect and struggled with how to rectify it. He realized that family, people you would rightly rage for and defend, are not always perfect or in the right. He came to grips with the fact that all wrongs can’t be fully righted, but acknowledgement and effort can mean all the difference to those greatly affected.
We joked that Boseman and his costars were getting sick of doing of the “Wakanda Forever” salute a few months after the movie premiered, but in a lot of ways, that salute endured because we all identified with Chadwick’s T’Challa (or conversely, with Killmonger) and we all wanted to be Wakandan, if just for a few seconds.
Chadwick Boseman deserved more time to be a king. He should’ve had more time to enjoy making movies and working towards becoming a Black film icon in his own right. It’s doubly sad that he succumbed to colon cancer, of which African Americans have the highest rates of new cases and death, according to the American Cancer Society. But that’s for another article. For now, the Marvel fanbase and Black nerds everywhere should raise their fists in solemn salute to a well-loved man and a truly fantastic actor.