My first impression of you and what could bring to the film industry was a damn good one. I lauded to everyone your performance in 42, as one of my all-time heroes in sports history, Jackie Robinson, who overcame incredible odds in the face of utterly savage racism. You portrayed the Brooklyn Dodgers’ greatest player with accuracy, respect and grace, it made say to myself “I’ve never seen this dude before, but damn, he’s gonna be a star! I can see it!” Over the years that followed, I watched you embody the spirit of many Black icons, historical and fictional, in every film appearance I saw you in since. Then one day, back in 2015, I saw Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Evans bring you on stage at San Diego Comic Con, when they announced you being cast in the role of T’Challa, Marvel Comics’ favorite king. In all honesty, despite me being a casual fan of the character, I was super-hype. I mean, you portrayed Jackie Robinson, James “The Godfather of Soul” Brown, and now, the King of Wakanda?! Hell yeah, I was definitely down for that. I was already confident that they couldn’t have cast a better actor for the role.
When some friends and I saw the solo Black Panther film two and a half years later on opening night, it really touched my heart to see not just how many of my fellow Black American adults were proud to celebrate this occasion, this cultural phenomenon (me and friends we’re literally dressed as royalty. It was so epic!), but the amount of children — black children, who were there with there families, holding their Black Panther action figures and rockin’ the t-shirts, who were finally seeing a comic book hero that looked liked them– looked like us, on screen. If you would’ve went back time to…oh, 1993 and told 10-year-old me that there would be a comic-book based film of this magnitude with almost nothing but melanin among the cast members, I would’ve thought it was complete bullshit. However, there I was in a fancy downtown D.C. theater, watching a film that embodied exactly that, with you being front and center on the screen.
Your role as King T’Challa, let alone the rest of the cast in Black Panther, were 10-year-old Sean’s wildest dreams.
I’ve also admired how you, along with a few other black actors, legends of the screen in their own right, continued to advocate for better representation in the film industry. Not only for more positions such as Inclusion Riders, but for more Black Americans to have the opportunities to tell our stories the way we want to tell them, without being confined to stereotypes. You’ve become an inspiration to creatives like myself, who see how well you perform at your craft, kids who can finally see superheroes on screen who look like them, and to everyone who has ever spent a considerable amount of time at a certainly HBCU, Howard University, who you always shouted out every chance you got (there’s a really good friend of mine, a fellow HU alum. I’m sure she’s reading this while screaming out loud.. well, “YOU KNOW!”). As an actor, an advocate, a proud graduate, and a man, how could we not be inspired by someone as humble, talented and driven as you?
Which makes your sudden departure from this world that much harder to bear.
While you were doing all of these amazing, inspiring things on and off screen, you were doing it while you were secretly in such pain. I had no idea. None of us did. If you would’ve quit acting all together after appearing in Captain America: Civil War because of your diagnosis, I don’t think anyone would’ve thought any less of you for it. but, you kept pressing on, perfecting your craft in spite of what you were going through, though you didn’t have to. I’m not gonna lie, in my eyes, that took unbelievable courage.
I am utterly sad that your illness took your brilliance, your kindness, and your positivity away from us way too soon. However, in spite of my own tears, I am also grateful for the mark you made on many people’s lives, and on the landscape of Hollywood. Though you are no longer with us, you still live on through the legacy that you leave behind. One that can be seen every time a black boy wears a Black Panther mask and yells “Wakanda Forever!”, every time a student walks through the halls of Howard, and every time that I feel inspired by you and your accomplishments as I inch closer to my own creative career.
Thank you so much for being a King. A King for the culture.
Photo: (Instagram @chadwickboseman)