I never met Chadwick Boseman, that is obvious. Yet, like millions of people who enjoyed seeing him in the various projects he was in, I felt a kinship with him. I guess that’s what happens with celebrities; the more we see them, the more we feel connected with them.
Through the iconic Black Panther movie, Chadwick became a cultural icon, one that will go down in history as arguably the most beloved superhero, at least for black audiences. The man, through his amazing talent and careful choices, did 3 biopics, cementing his legacy as a legendary actor by playing the great Jackie Robinson in 42, the godfather of soul James Brown in Get on up and Thurgood Marshall, the first black man who served as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States in Marshall. I remember a journalist called Chadwick Boseman “Mr. Biopic”. It is hard to argue with that nickname. No one gets to do 3 biopics if they are talentless. On the contrary, one must be incredibly talented to pull off that trifecta. He accomplished all this by the time he was 41 years old. Age ain’t nothing but a number.
By all accounts and through the testimonies of his colleagues and those who knew him intimately, his friends and family, Chadwick was a kind soul, a true artist, egoless, generous, eager to learn and to work hard. He was deeply involved with the creative process of each movie he was in. As T’Challa / Black Panther, he was simply magnificent. Marvel wanted him to have a British accent in the movie, but Chadwick pushed back and told the studio there was no way an African King, who had never studied in the English speaking word, would have an English accent. His African accent in Black Panther was his idea, one he fought for, because he knew what the movie meant to black and African audiences. He didn’t compromise on that detail, which was anything but small. T’Challa is Wakandan, not American or English.
His death came as a shock to the world, in this damned year where the disasters keep piling up. The world learned Chadwick had been battling colon cancer for four painful long years. He was sick when he made Black Panther, both Avengers Infinity war and Endgame, 21 bridges, and Da 5 bloods. He made those movies while going through various treatments including surgery and chemotherapy. According to reports, very few people knew about his condition. The press never found out, and even Spike Lee, the director of Da 5 bloods, later admitted he didn’t know about Chadwick’s illness.
Chadwick’s silence about his condition is indicative of who he was as a person. I cannot find the words to describe how much I admire him and what an inspiration he was as a human being. Battling cancer is a dehumanizing process because of the pain, the fear, the anxiety, the physical toll the treatments take on one’s body, the highs and especially lows one goes through. Nevertheless, while he was battling this nasty disease, Chadwick kept going to hospitals, visiting sick children, and giving them gifts, smiles and his positive energy. Even during those painful moments, he wanted to do things for others. He was selfless during his own personal battle. Now, that’s true strength. That is proof of who Chadwick really was; selfless, humble, kind and he didn’t want to be a victim. Chadwick was a warrior in his movies but mostly, he was a true warrior in real life.
Chadwick kept his illness a secret. Imagine someone doing that in the 2010’s. Nowadays, people try desperately to look for clout, to be relevant, by any means necessary. We live in a narcissistic era, exacerbated by all these social media platforms which are mostly used in an egocentric and selfish way. Moreover, Chadwick worked in show business, a world where self promotion, self praise, selfies, vanity, attention seeking behaviors and over inflated egos rule. Chadwick didn’t let those shallow and hollow behaviours rule him. Nah…He ruled himself, he was his own man. Who better to play T’Challa?? Seriously?? It could only have been him.
Chadwick chose to stay silent about his condition out of decency, out of modesty and mostly, because, once again, that’s who he was according to everyone who knew him. Chadwick was a fighter through his roles and his actions in real life. Applause, acclamation, flattery, and any other behaviour that would feed his ego, didn’t matter to him. Chadwick’s ego seemed intact.
There is a scene in Avengers: Endgame, where Captain America is left standing alone against Thanos and his army. All looks lost and Captain America is beaten, injured, out of breath and his legendary shield is broken. But then he hears Sam Wilson/Falcon talking in ear. He turns around, a portal opens and Okoye, Shuri and T’Challa walk through it. The camera focuses on Chadwick’s face and Captain America feels relief, knowing he has got help now. I watch that scene on YouTube often and as much as I love Black Panther, I see Chadwick Boseman, the silent hero we need but rarely get.
Chadwick, thank you for transcending the superhero genre by being yourself, this human being who fought silently until the end. You never complained, you never asked for pity, attention, applause, and you never played the victim. You persevered, working, and making great films through the pain. Never has a man been way bigger than an iconic character they have played, especially a superhero.
You inspired more people than you’ll ever know. You inspired me, still do and always will. Thank you!
Chadwick Boseman FOREVER!
Now smile and go on with your day!