In Memorium: Chadwick Boseman

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, this past weekend Chadwick Boseman, he was an incredible actor, who over the past five years had gained acclaim for playing King T’Challa, the Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As the star of Black Panther, he was the first black lead in a superhero movie since Wesley Snipes in Blade. Black Panther had an incredible cultural impact that cannot be understated.

T’Challa was only in four MCU movies, but it felt like he had a much larger impact on the franchise. He was a crucial part of Captain America: Civil War, standing out foremost among an ensemble cast – his action scenes were bolstered by amazing choreography, and each scene with him guided along a compelling character arc at the heart of one of the franchise’s best movies as far as character development is concerned.

Then there’s Black Panther, which – where to even begin? – it’s phenomenal, and at the heart and soul of that movie is Chadwick’s acting and kingly demeanor. At the time the movie came out, much more of the praise was lauded on Michael B. Jordan, whose sinister performance of Kilmonger garnered more attention – but it’s important to note that his role wouldn’t have been as focused without the grounded and level-headed foil that Chadwick brought in T’Challa.

And to go back to the way I described it before, he just had a kingly demeanor that was so refreshing to see. It’s similar to watching Aragorn in Lord of the Rings, or any other similar role, but Chadwick brought a warmth and sympathy that you don’t often get in this kind of character.

And like I said, in only four out of over twenty MCU movies, he had become one of the most beloved characters in a cast of dozens. Hell, he had become one of the most beloved after Black Panther. A significant part of the appeal of Infinity War and Endgame was finally getting to see T’Challa as part of the Avengers. Suddenly, he was a central part in the world’s biggest franchise, and he will leave a massive hole in his wake. (If there is anyone strategizing about what Marvel Studios will do for Black Panther sequels, I think it’s inappropriate to wonder about that now – right now, I only mean to say that he had become such an integral part of the series and that his absence will certainly be felt.)

On a lighter note, there was also Chadwick’s appearance as T’Challa in Saturday Night Live’s fourth installment of “Black Jeopardy.” It’s very funny, and shows the dissociation between the African Utopia we see in Black Panther and the black experience in America. It’s nice to see that even though this character was mostly serious in his movie appearances, Chadwick was willing to have a little fun with him.

I’d be remiss not to mention Chadwick’s other great performances, playing multiple real black icons as well as one of the most beloved such as Thurgood Marshall in Marshall, Jackie Robinson in 42, and James Brown in Get on Up. He was only acting in films for about 12 years, but in that relatively short career, he delivered a staggering number of great performances and iconic roles. In this way, I think people will tragically look at his career the same way we look at Heath Ledger’s career now.

I had first found out about Chadwick’s passing on Twitter. Daniel O’Brien, a writer on Last Week Tonight, tweeted a simple and honest response to Chadwick’s passing: “Fuck.” Clint Smith of the Atlantic tweeted: “I keep thinking about my 3-year-old in his Black Panther costume. How he wore it almost every day when he got it, refused to take it off. The way he walked around saying ‘I’m the Black Panther.’ How happy it made him. What Chadwick gave us was immeasurable. What an enormous loss.” Matthew A. Cherry tweeted this incredibly true assessment: “Chadwick was really out here shooting all of these huge action movies while fighting stage 4 colon cancer. Man. Strong isn’t even the word.” When sharing a picture she took with Chadwick Boseman and other black actors, Ava DuVernay wrote: “Black Hollywood is small. Like a small village. … One absence devastates. Chad loomed large among us. We will miss him, never forget him, love him – always.”

I have relatively few words – Chadwick had very quickly become a fixture of black Hollywood, and he had meant so much to so many people, particularly young black children. His loss was so sudden and so unexpected by almost everyone, which makes it all the more awful. There’s nothing more to say but; Thank you, Chadwick. We will miss you.

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