If you didn’t think 2020 could get worse, it has.
The devastating news of Chadwick Boseman’s untimely and shocking passing at the age of 43 is not only unexpected and tragic, but grossly unfair.
In his relatively short career – he featured in his first film, The Express: The Ernie Davis Story, in 2008 – he scaled the heights of stardom, conquered the box office and revolutionised the most popular film franchise since Star Wars. But somehow, it felt like he was only just getting started.
Yet aside from his achievements on-screen, Boseman will live on in the millions of lives changed and empowered by his work. His role as King T’Challa took on a purpose far greater than just a superhero protagonist: it was a chance for Hollywood to move away from overbearing whiteness, and gave young black viewers the chance to see themselves positively represented on the big screen in ways they previously hadn’t.
More than just another entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther is a celebration of blackness: directed by a black man, starring a predominantly black cast, and set almost entirely in Africa. It wasn’t just episode 18 of the MCU – it was episode 1 of a new dawn for blackness in cinema.
And the impact of Boseman’s work in Black Panther is so evident in the cultural touchstone the film has become. It cracked $1 billion at the box office – a feat achieved by only 45 films in history – and was the all-time highest-grossing film with a black lead, until 2019’s The Lion King remake was released. This wasn’t achieved just by blind hype and superhero action – there’s plenty of films with a similar profile that totally flopped – but due to the importance of the work that Boseman, director Ryan Coogler et al. were doing.
While Boseman may be best remembered for bringing King T’Challa to life, his other works are equally important and proved the growing range as an actor that we will sadly never get to see fulfilled. His final release before his passing, as Stormin’ Norman in Spike Lee’s fantastic Da 5 Bloods, now takes on an even more poignant and moving legacy. Norman was etched in the memory of his squad-mates as a hero who went out too young, a leader and trailblazer that inspired them and forever lives on within them as the great man he was. And that’s exactly how Boseman himself will now be remembered: a young man who changed the game and had so much left to give.
The strength he had, to keep his diagnosis and treatment secret, and to persevere with gargantuan filming schedules and promotional tours nonetheless, is testament to how much he lived for his characters and the message they held. How he managed to visit children in hospital, despite knowing the situation with his own health, is unfathomable. His commitment to being a real-life hero to those that needed one came before his own situation: and that level of selflessness and sacrifice has rarely been seen before.
We lost a really good one yesterday, but Chadwick Boseman will never truly be gone. In such a short time he embodied a character and movement that will live on in the DNA of the cinema’s biggest franchise, and gave millions of black cinemagoers the chance to see themselves represented in ways that Hollywood hadn’t done before.
He will be sorely missed, not just for his A-list performances, but for the real-life superhero he was, and will forever be.
Rest in Power, Chadwick Boseman. You will never be forgotten.
Any revenue from this article will be donated to the Colon Cancer Foundation.