Chadwick Boseman is dead at 43, leaving us a legacy of heroes reminding us that black lives matter.
The just warrior-king, T’Challa of Wakanda, is gone. Chadwick Boseman, 43, died yesterday from Stage 4 Colon Cancer. He was home with family.
Our hearts are broken and our thoughts are with Chadwick Boseman’s family. Your legacy will live on forever. Rest In Peace. pic.twitter.com/YQMrEJy90x
— Marvel Entertainment (@Marvel) August 29, 2020
Chadwick Boseman’s Quiet Battle
People saw Boseman looking terribly thin earlier in 2020. “Hope he beefs up for Black Panther 2,” a friend mentioned to me. “Why is he getting so thin?”
But Boseman wasn’t just skinny or eating Vegan-style. He wasted away. Sunken-faced Boseman looked very ill in a time of Pandemic. Fans rightly worried.
Now we know why he dropped so much weight. Doctors diagnosed Boseman with colon cancer back in 2016. He’d been battling it ever since. Quietly. That year, Marvel fans delighted in “Captain America: Civil War.” Boseman killed it as T’Challa, the Black Panther superhero introduced in that film. He worked sick through the terrific subsequent films, “Black Panther” and “Avengers” entries, “Infinity War” and “Endgame.”
And Boseman kept working. He filmed “Marshall,” “21 Bridges,” “Da 5 Bloods,” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Boseman appeared on Saturday Night Live also, all the while undergoing chemotherapy. He was hilarious.
Chadwick Boseman: The Black Panther
So in just seven years, Boseman gave us a tremendous legacy of artistic work. He will, perhaps, be best remembered for playing King T’Challa of Wakanda.
Some who dismiss superhero films and the Marvel Cinematic Universe craze might have a problem grasping the magnitude of losing Boseman. Yes, undoubtedly, MCU flicks are lava cake movies. That’s how initial Marvel helmer, John Favreau, winked at fans (in a self-deprecating way) in “Chef.”
How does one maintain artistic credibility while cooking up expected Hollywood blockbuster fare, demanded by studio overseers? And critics can be smug with lava cake.
But you can have cheap lava cake (Michael Bae’s “Transformers” garbage and the “Furious” movies). Or you can have an excellent lava cake (“Star Wars” and Marvel films). And deep things can be discussed over lava cake.
Enjoying Superior Lava Cake
Superhero depth, which I think eludes the likes of Martin Scorsese and his disdain for Marvel movies, was best expressed recently by director Spike Lee. Please watch Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” airing now on Netflix if you get a chance. It features Boseman in a key role.
Of Boseman and superheroes, Lee told an interviewer from “Atlantic”—
“Here’s the thing for me. This character [“Stormin'” Norman Earl Holloway] is heroic; he’s a superhero. Who do we cast? We cast Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall, and we cast T’Challa. Chad is a superhero! That character is Christlike! Notice the way [cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel] shot him. There’s light from heaven coming down from above on him.”
Imagine that—a connection between Christ and superheroes. And when superheroes are all white, what does that say about how the American Christ is?
Chadwick Boseman Matters
As the prophetic Cornel West says, “Race Matters.” If you are white and therefore carry the privilege that inescapably brings, great people resembling you flow like an endless waterfall from all media. You always get to enjoy heroes mirroring you, fictional or real. Superheroes, too, from Superman to Captain America. All white.
Our mainstream American culture always rewards us whites with reminders that the world really belongs to us. Whiteness has inherited the earth, or rather, raped and took it. And the potential of whiteness is infinite. Whiteness is programmed into us as a sacred birthright. We are incessantly taught that we are godlike. Indeed, if a white male can believe it, he can do it, to paraphrase Uncle Walt. We are all called to be superheroes.
But what about black people here? The treatment has almost always been historically toxic. “Black Panther” stands in sharp contrast.
This reality invested Boseman’s King T’Challa and the “Black Panther” film with enormous cultural significance. While dressed in all the cosmic scope of a standard Marvel flick, the extraordinary “Black Panther” nevertheless presents 21st-century black realities. It deals with real problems faced by people of African descent.
Watching Chadwick Boseman in Ministry
The AWAKE young adult group I served went to see the groundbreaking “Black Panther,” just like all the Marvel films. We watched a great hero take his place in the cinematic superhero pantheon. I saw white kids emulating the speech and mannerisms of Boseman’s T’Challa. This wasn’t done disrespectfully, but the way they would Spider-man, Batman, Superman, or any other superhero they admired.
I first enjoyed the powerhouse acting of Boseman in “42,” playing the legendary Jackie Robinson. It was another young adult social with an inspiring film. We’d follow him as he played other legends, such as an uncanny performance as James Brown in the 2014 film “Get On Up,” and Thurgood Marshall in 2017 movie, “Marshall.”
Boseman wasn’t just a movie star. He was a genuine actor, too. We pay people to hone personalities we want to see in films and TV shows—movie stars. But some, like Boseman, are also actors, and they seem to melt into their roles.
“Black Panther” is a fantastic success, one of many in the Marvel empire, yes, but uniquely crucial in our time. Race matters. Racism isn’t going anywhere. It’s entrenched in the U.S.A, as is police brutality against American blacks. It’s even celebrated and fed from the White House.
Ryan Coogler, director of Black Panther, should be celebrated on his accomplishment. But it wouldn’t have worked without the humanity of a great actor like Boseman.
Fans were looking forward to Boseman again the “Black Panther” sequel, once more taking on the vibranium-infused garb of T’Challa. They were hopeful to watch him battle the likes of Namor of Atlantis and match wits with Victor Von Doom, perhaps the greatest of all Marvel supervillains.
Marvel and Coogler have a significant task in re-casting. The Black Panther character must live on. He’s too essential a symbol to be dusted off by Thanos, not just because Disney wants more billions. Because race matters. Because black lives, and black stories, matter. This is as true as the Incarnation. Jesus, by the way, hails from the black and brown parts of the world. Catholics should get that, no sweat.
Chadwick Boseman will be missed. Rest in power, and thank you, sir.
Long live, King T’Challa. Wakanda forever!