A few months ago in September, I watched 21 Bridges. It had been saved in my DVR. It’s the only recent film of Chadwick Boseman’s that was released in theaters that I didn’t watch in an actual theater. I’m not sure what happened to make me miss seeing it. And nowadays, it seems like movies are in the theaters for a hot second before they’re already released on On Demand and Blu Ray. A few weeks prior, I had watched Da 5 Bloods on Netflix. I definitely saw the biopics 42 (about Jackie Robinson), Marshall (about Thurgood Marshall), Get On Up (about James Brown), and of course, the Marvel comic book-based Black Panther in the theaters. Not only did I see them in theater, I’m pretty sure I saw them opening weekend.
I really can’t believe that Chadwick Boseman is gone. When I first saw the picture of him looking gaunt, I had a chilling feeling he might’ve been ill, but hoped it was for a role, even though all filming of TV shows and movies had been halted due to Covid-19. Chadwick was a notoriously private man. As much as I love pop culture and knowing about celebrity’s private lives, I knew very little about him, but his class, charisma, and swag made me a huge fan and admirer of him as an actor and as a person. I don’t read comic books. My excitement for the Black Panther movie wasn’t rooted in comic book fandom. I was excited for the magic of this all Black cast with Chadwick at the helm. The media frenzy was crazy for the big budget movie. Chadwick was everywhere. He was one of the best dressed at the 2018 Met Gala. He did countless interviews, appearing on the covers of magazines, even Rolling Stone. Essence released multiple covers featuring the cast. I was thrilled to receive mine with a solo Boseman, nothing against the others, of course. I love Angela Bassett and would’ve been content receiving one with her on the cover.
Chadwick expressed his gratitude when recounting the story of how Denzel Washington paid for a scholarship that allowed him and other students to study acting abroad. It was a program he otherwise would have missed without the financial help coordinated by the great actress Phylicia Rashad, Black America’s mom. The Howard grad told the story on red carpets, in seated interviews, and a show honoring Washington.
Boseman was so humbled to be able to portray Jackie Robinson in the movie 42. He did an interview with Tavis Smiley on PBS in which the two discussed that the movie was not only a biopic about when Robinson broke the color line in baseball, but also at the heart of the film is a love story. Rachel, Jackie Robinson’s wife, was his anchor in the hailstorm of racism he faced each time he stepped onto the baseball diamond. In one scene, as he steps to bat, angry, racist whites in the stands are yelling and screaming. Boseman as Robinson scans the crowd for Rachel’s face. The camera pans through the stands and everything goes silent save for the sound of his heavy breathing. When he finds her, he finds his solace. It’s a beautiful scene.
I’ll be honest. I thought it was horrible casting when it was first announced that he would portray Thurgood Marshall and James Brown in those two biopics. He didn’t look like either, especially Marshall, who’s much fairer skinned than the dark brown Bosemen. I have a friend who always called him her Chocolate Drop and would use the candy bar emoji in texts. More than once I heard comedians joke that Boseman was becoming the go-to black actor for Black biopics. “Give another actor a chance. Damn!” But it’s questionable if any other actor could have done as stellar a job as Chadwick did in those roles.
All it took was one viewing of the trailers for these movies and I knew I’d be purchasing a ticket for a Sher Date.
It takes a special soul and talent to be able to successfully portray these icons and legends who mean so much to history and culture, especially Black history and culture. It’s sad whenever anyone loses a battle to cancer. It’s remarkable and admirable that Chadwick continued to pursue his passion and purpose full throttle in the midst of stage four cancer and in between chemo treatments. He said he only took roles that would mean something to the culture and that he could be proud of. I admired that he kept his illness private, only his closest family members and friends knew. Not even fellow actor Michael B. Jordan or directors Ryan Coogler and Spike Lee knew on the sets of Black Panther and Da Five Bloods, respectively. Keeping that a secret and not expecting special treatment highlight his strength.
It wasn’t until I saw someone on social media say that we should stop saying that he battled it alone just because we, the general public, didn’t know that I changed about being sad about that part of the story. It’s true. He didn’t battle it alone. He had the love and support of those who truly knew and loved him as Chadwick Boseman, Chad as some called him, the person, family member, and friend. Well wishes from fans aka strangers in the grand scheme of things to him weren’t important. Also, it’s likely he believed the focus in interviews and meetings would be the cancer, not him and his work.
I love that part of his legacy is that even as he was privately battling his own terminal illness, he had insurmountable apathy, empathy, and sympathy to visit children in hospitals who were also ill. In a Sway in the Morning Sirius radio interview, Chadwick becomes emotional talking about two kids who succumbed before getting the chance to see Black Panther. Their wish had been to hang on to see the film. Flanked by Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira, they rubbed his back as becomes choked up before leaving the interview. He does not return. Thinking about that interview makes me want to cry all over again like I did when I saw it the first time.
After Boseman passed away, social media was littered with posts of children tearfully holding funeral ceremonies for Black Panther while making the Wakanda Forever crossed arm gesture. Let’s be clear: no actor can fill the shoes of Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, but Black Panther did not die. Chadwick Boseman an incredible person with a beautiful soul has left us in the physical form. That is who we mourn. His legacy will be with us forever. Today we should celebrate him on what would have been his 44th birthday.