World Mourns Chadwick Boseman’s Death


Chadwick Boseman died after a long battle with colon cancer. (Courtesy of Facebook)

Sara Tsugranis

The year 2020 has been full of tragedy and loss, continued on August 28 when actor Chadwick Boseman’s untimely death was announced. Boseman’s death at the age of 43 came as a shock to the world as he had kept his battle with cancer a secret. Boseman was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016.

Boseman is best known as the calm, composed, and philosophical leader T’Challa in Marvel’s “Black Panther.” He was the soul and seriousness of the Marvel franchise. “Black Panther” did not just entertain but touched the hearts of viewers worldwide, becoming a global sensation and solidifying Chadwick Boseman as a household name. Celebrities to little kids proudly recited “Wakanda forever!” and did the Wakanda salute.

Boseman intended to write and direct at the start of his career, but took on acting. While at Howard University, he had Phylicia Rashad, best known for her role as Clair Huxtable, as a teacher. She, along with Denzel Washington, helped Boseman and other students to raise money so they could attend the British American Drama Academy’s Midsummer program. 

Very few knew about Boseman’s condition, and the reaction from his co-stars was heartbreak. Michael B. Jordan, who plays opposite Boseman as Killmonger in “Black Panther,” wrote a lengthy Instagram caption to grieve his death. He repeatedly says, “I wish we had more time.” Former President Barack Obama also shared his condolences in an Instagram post, recalling when Boseman visited the White House to work with kids when he was playing Jackie Robinson, “You could tell right away he was blessed. To be young, gifted, and Black; to use that power to give them heroes to look up to; to do it all while in pain – what a use of his years.”

Boseman’s first starring role was as the iconic Jackie Robinson in “42.” Boseman would also play other iconic and groundbreaking figures like singer James Brown in “Get On Up” and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in “Marshall.” 

Choosing uplifting and empowering roles was important to Boseman. He turned down a role in a film alongside Tessa Thompson as a slave. In an essay for THR, his agent said Boseman wanted to stop perpetuating slavery and Black stereotypes. In his commencement speech at his alma mater in 2018, Boseman spoke about being fired from a role early in his career for questioning the Black stereotypes his character embodied.

“I was promised to make six figures, more money than I had ever seen,” he said. “I was feeling myself…Once I saw the role I was playing, I found myself conflicted… this role seemed to be wrapped up in assumptions about us as black folk.” 

Boseman played arguably the most uplifting Black character in a film not centered around Black stereotypes or Black pain. “Black Panther” was the first superhero film to receive a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards and won numerous other Oscars. The film’s Black cast made a statement and was a significant cultural moment. The Academy had been under repeated scrutiny for not being diverse enough, brought to light with the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. The New York Times included a report from USC Annenberg looking at the film industry from 2007-2015 which reported that “86% of top films featured white actors in the lead role.” Yet, “Black Panther” was so beloved that there was no way it could be overlooked.

In a segment on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, fans stood in front of Boseman’s poster as T’Challa and spoke about what “Black Panther” meant to them.

“I just wanted to thank you for making Black Panther for the kids,” one audience member said.  “Representation is very important. It gives the kids hope.” 

In Boseman’s last film released in his lifetime, Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods,” Boseman plays Stormin’ Norman. Norman was the leader of a group of 5 Black Vietnam soldiers. Norman was killed in action, and the other veterans, now older men, return to Vietnam to find Norman’s remains in the jungle. Boseman plays Norman as a poised leader, yet joking and caring friend. The veterans describe him as both their “Malcolm and Martin.” The legacy that Norman leaves his friends is similar to the legacy that Boseman has left on the world. He passed too soon, but with the time he was here left an impact that is sure to be felt long after he is gone.