On the morning of August 29, 2020, I woke to the news that the incomparable Chadwick Boseman had passed. It was a numbing moment as I found it hard to process the thought that such a bright light had been extinguished so soon. In a year where dark times have become a signature stamp on our daily lives, it’s a hard task to relinquish any semblance of light, let alone a star as bright as Chadwick’s. To this date, Chadwick’s most popular role was in the Marvel Comics hero film, Black Panther. This role imagined him as an inspiring King and a courageous hero. After taking a brief glimpse into the life of the man behind the character, it becomes undeniably clear that Chadwick was indeed a real-life hero and a cultural King who even in his final days devoted his precious time to the service of others.
Chadwick Aaron Boseman was born in South Carolina on November 29, 1976. He was the African American, Southern Baptist son of Leroy and Carolyn Boseman. Carolyn was a nurse while Leroy worked for an Agricultural company and maintained an Upholstery Business. Carolyn and Leroy worked hard to take care of their three sons: Derrick, Kevin and Chadwick who was the youngest of the trio. In 2019, Chadwick was quoted by the New York Times as saying that his father would often “work a lot of third shifts, a lot of night shifts. Whenever I work a particularly hard week, I think of him.” Chadwick’s oldest brother, Derrick, is the Pastor of a Church in Tennessee. His brother, Kevin, is a successful dancer who has performed for Broadway’s The Lion King and the Alvin Ailey dance troupe. Chadwick credits his middle brother’s success within the performing arts as the reason for him pursuing his acting career. During an interview, Chadwick explained, “There’s no way in the world I would have thought, ‘O.K. let me write this play’ if it wasn’t for him. Ultimately, I’m here because of what he did. I always wanted to dress better than my middle brother, and I wanted to beat the older one in sports.”
Inspired by his brother’s success, Chadwick did indeed draft his first play. During his time at T.L Hanna High School, Chadwick was focused on being recruited to college to play basketball. His entire focus would however shift during his junior year when one of his close friends was unfortunately shot and killed. The death of his friend caused Chadwick to write a full play entitled, Crossroads, in his honor. Chadwick both directed and staged the play, which was emotionally performed to the delight of the entire school. Chadwick was quoted as saying, “I just had a feeling that this was something that was calling me. Suddenly, playing basketball wasn’t as important.”
With a renewed spirit for the arts, Chadwick attended Howard University where he pursued a Bachelor of Fine Arts in directing. One of his Howard University professors was none other than the legendary Phylicia Rashad. Phylicia Rashad believed in Chadwick’s ability so much that she called on her good friend, the great Denzel Washington, to fund Chadwick’s enrolment at the British American Drama Academy Summer Program in London. In the year 2000, Boseman graduated from Howard University. His graduating class’ commencement speaker was another legend who would bless the career of the budding star. Angela Bassett not only delivered the commencement address, but she was also escorted by a young Chadwick Boseman while doing so.
After a fruitful four years at Howard University with legendary mentors and influences, Chadwick was more than prepared to champion Hollywood. In 2003, he received his first televised role on an episode of Third Watch. That same year, he was hired to portray the character, Reggie Montgomery, on the daytime Soap Opera, All My Children. Most veteran Hollywood actors credit Soap Operas as being the foundation to their careers, so this was an amazing opportunity for a young Chadwick. While preparing for the role, Chadwick could not ignore the negative racial stereotypes embedded within the Reggie Montgomery character. As someone who had started his career in high school to inspire others like himself, Chadwick spoke up to the show’s writers regarding his concerns. Much to his dismay, he was fired and replaced by his future costar, Michael B. Jordan. The following years proceeded with a much slower and difficult ascent into stardom. Other than a few television appearances on Law & Order, CSI, and ER, Chadwick had trouble finding a steady acting job, but not one to give up, Chadwick continued to work within his craft by writing the stage play, Deep Azure, which was performed by the Congo Square Theater Company in Chicago, Illinois. The play was nominated for a 2006 Joseph Jefferson Award.
In 2008, Chadwick landed a recurring role on the television Series, Lincoln Heights. That same year, he was finally able to break into the world of feature film by playing a part in the movie, The Express: The Ernie Davis Story. Things were beginning to look up for Chadwick in 2010 after he landed a regular role in the televised series, Persons Unknown.
In 2013, Chadwick was seriously considering quitting his career as an actor to pursue directing on a full-time basis, but his destiny was unavoidable. Exactly ten years after being fired for speaking up for his cultural integrity, Chadwick Boseman received the leading role in the Jackie Robinson biopic film, 42. Jackie Robinson’s, at the time, 90-year-old widow was impressed by Chadwick’s portrayal of her late husband. She was particularly enchanted by the love scenes between Chadwick and the character who portrayed her in the film. She commented that Chadwick’s performance gave her an opportunity to see Jackie again.
In 2014, Chadwick starred alongside Kevin Costner in Draft Day. Later that year, he resurrected yet another legend by portraying James Brown in the film, Get on Up. This role required Chadwick to pull on his childhood experiences of singing in the Baptist Church Choir by contributing his own vocal and dance ability to the film. In 2016, he received another starring role as the Egyptian god, Thoth, in the film, Gods of Egypt.
Chadwick Boseman was on top of the world. After a series of starring roles in biopics and large-scale blockbusters, he’d gained the attention of Hollywood’s heavy hitters. The entertainment industry conglomerate that is Marvel/Disney was chief among them. In the 2016 film, Captain America: Civil War, Chadwick secured a five-picture deal with Marvel Studios to portray King T’Challa, known by most as the Black Panther. He reprised the role in a series of billion-dollar grossing films consisting of 2018’s Black Panther, Avenger’s Infinity War, and Avenger’s Endgame. Endgame went on to become the highest grossing film of all time.
Suddenly little black boys and girls across the world were able to see themselves as not only heroes, but as Kings and Queens of advanced civilizations. The world of Wakanda became an African American cultural symbol of greatness, and Chadwick Boseman was undoubtedly the heart of this newfound potential. He carried his global fame with the strength and responsibility of a real-world hero. During the 2018 VMAs, Chadwick was granted the award for Best Hero. While accepting his award, Chadwick dedicated the moment to acknowledging another hero. While on the televised stage, he valiantly spoke, “Receiving an award for playing a superhero is amazing. But, it’s even greater to acknowledge the heroes that we have in real life. So, I just wanna acknowledge somebody that’s here today, James Shaw Jr. If you don’t know James Shaw Jr,’ he fought off a gunman in Antioch, Tennessee, at a Waffle House, saved lives.” Chadwick then proceeded to pass on his award to the young man by saying, “So, this is gonna live at your house, God bless you.”
In addition to honoring local heroes, Chadwick truly lived up to being one in his own right. Young terminally ill cancer patients in Saint Jude’s children’s hospital were greeted with a joyous visit from the Black Panther himself. He brought toys, smiles and the iconic “Wakanda Forever” pose directly to the children’s hospital beds. This deed was made even more heroic by the fact that Chadwick Boseman was secretly fighting cancer as well. In 2016, while signing a deal to become a hero for billions, he was diagnosed with Stage 3 Colon Cancer. Instead of devoting his final years to himself, he heroically accepted and carried out the responsibility of serving hope and joy to his billions of fans worldwide.
Its difficult to imagine the weight and stress of impending death. I can’t even measure the amount of turmoil that comes from a 4-year battle with Stage’s 3 and 4 of cancer. The toll of countless surgeries and chemotherapy must be beyond taxing on a person’s mental, emotional and physical health. Also having to look into the eyes of your loved ones as they watch cancer eat away at your form is a heartbreaking thought for anyone to muster. Chadwick Aaron Boseman endured these past 4 years with grace and strength. Without once stopping, he continued to bring life to one cultural hero after another. With extremely physical films like 21 Bridges and Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, there’s not one ounce of struggle or defeat within his performances. In every single frame, he carried himself with the stature of a hero. Chadwick Boseman was not nearly an actor. He was greater than any hero or king. He was a transformational spirit who channeled the experiences of others and honored them through his gifts. A spirit, with that kind of power, never really passes on. His light is far too bright to truly be extinguished. I can assure you that Chadwick Boseman is immortal. He will live on in the minds and hearts of every single person who witnessed the profound beauty of his craft.
It was a job well done, King. You may now rest in glorious peace. You are our light, and we love you, Chadwick Aaron Boseman! Wakanda Forever!