Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, James Brown, King T’Challa, Chadwick Boseman.
On Friday, the world was left completely stunned as news broke that we lost a legend in Chadwick Boseman. The 43 year old passed away from stage 4 colon cancer, something he was diagnosed with all the way back in 2016, but kept secret from the world. And in those four years Boseman gave us some of the most memorable performances of his lifetime. He made Civil War, Black Panther, the final two Avengers films, Marshall, 21 Bridges, Da 5 Bloods and the forthcoming Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom all while undergoing “countless surgeries and chemotherapy.”
— Chadwick Boseman (@chadwickboseman) August 29, 2020
A Symbol of Black Excellence
The reason his death hits harder than others is because of how sudden it all was, especially since virtually no one knew of his ailment and literally no one saw this coming. I certainly didn’t. And because he was not just a talented actor, he was a cultural hero. He was an inspiration to kids who got to see themselves represented on screen. The kids (and adults) who saw a Black superhero, a Black king, and believed that they could be one too. Not simply because he incarnated Hollywood’s first larger-than-life Black comic-book superhero, but because he made him such an earthly and tangible human being. Boseman played a symbol of Black excellence, strength, intelligence, compassion and respect.
I still remember his acceptance speech from the SAG Awards in 2018, when Black Panther won the award of Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. “To be young, gifted and Black,” he had said, borrowing the lines from the Nina Simone civil rights anthem.
“We all know what it’s like to be told that there is not a place for you to be featured. Yet you are young, gifted and Black. We know what it’s like to be told there’s not a screen for you to be featured on, a stage for you to be featured on. We know what it’s like to be the tail and not the head. We know what it’s like to be beneath and not above.”
“That is what we went to work with every day,” he continued. “Because we knew … that we had something special that we wanted to give the world. That we could be full human beings in the roles that we were playing. That we could create a world that exemplified a world that we wanted to see.”
And he was. Young, gifted and Black.
Hollywood Mourns His Loss
In the wake of his tragic passing, many of Boseman’s peers and castmates took to social media to pay tribute to him.
Colleagues from the Marvel Cinematic Universe like Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Brie Larson, Angela Bassett, Sebastian Stan, Tom Holland and many many more, led the charge with heart wrenching social media tributes.
In a statement, producer and MCU architect Kevin Feige said “he was our T’Challa, our Black Panther, and our dear friend. Each time he stepped on set, he radiated charisma and joy, and each time he appeared on screen, he created something truly indelible.”
“Nobody was better at bringing great men to life,” Feige continued.
Love also poured from legends like Viola Davis and Oprah Winfrey, as well as Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris. And in a touching post, even DC Comics gave Boseman a shout.
Chadwick…..no words to express my devastation of losing you. Your talent, your spirit, your heart, your authenticity……..It was an honor working beside you, getting to know you….Rest well prince…May flights of angels sing thee to thy heavenly rest. I love you! 💛💛💛 pic.twitter.com/6abglPBOsh
— Viola Davis (@violadavis) August 29, 2020
What a gentle gifted SOUL. Showing us all that Greatness in between surgeries and chemo. The courage, the strength, the Power it takes to do that. This is what Dignity looks like. https://t.co/U3OOnJVS42
— Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) August 29, 2020
To a hero who transcends universes. Wakanda Forever. Rest in Power Chadwick. pic.twitter.com/F5YhIbK4wg
— DC (@DCComics) August 29, 2020
The true power of @ChadwickBoseman was bigger than anything we saw on screen. From the Black Panther to Jackie Robinson, he inspired generations and showed them they can be anything they want — even super heroes. Jill and I are praying for his loved ones at this difficult time.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) August 29, 2020
Heartbroken. My friend and fellow Bison Chadwick Boseman was brilliant, kind, learned, and humble. He left too early but his life made a difference. Sending my sincere condolences to his family. pic.twitter.com/C5xGkUi9oZ
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) August 29, 2020
There are so many more tributes for this extraordinary man, rightly so, and you can see them all compiled right here.
A Real Life Superhero
To be diagnosed with cancer and to then go on and provide the world with one blockbuster after the other, giving interviews, red carpet events, award shows and everything that comes in between is no small feat. And Boseman is nothing short of a superhero to have done that without complaining even once. He fought his own private battles and gave us performances that will last a lifetime. He was a man that inspired an entire generation to believe that they could be King, that they could be a superhero too, that saw someone who looked like them on screen and were inspired to believe in their dreams. And if that doesn’t make him a real life superhero, I don’t know what will.
Looking back at older interviews takes on a whole new meaning now, knowing that Boseman was fighting cancer while he was creating such powerful and iconic roles. This video, in which he talks about working on Black Panther knowing that children with terminal cancer were eager to watch it, is almost too moving to watch.
Chadwick Boseman getting emotional about trading letters with kids with terminal cancer who passed before they got to see Black Panther…knowing he was himself battling cancer when he said this.#WakandaForever 🖤🕊️ pic.twitter.com/QrLLdnIKqV
— Mr.Galx_ (@GalaHlulani) August 29, 2020
So here’s to Chadwick Boseman, who immersed himself into every role he played and managed to make them vulnerable and approachable. And played them all with such nuance that you believed they were right there with you. Here’s to Chadwick Boseman, who fought his own silent battles, while he gave the world gem after gem, without ever complaining. Here’s to Chadwick Boseman, who became a cultural icon of Black excellence for a whole entire generation – and the many more that are about to follow. Here’s to Chadwick Boseman who was a beacon of strength, courage and light to anyone who needed him to be, whether it was through his roles, his activism or his personality.
Here’s to you, Chadwick Boseman – young, gifted and Black.
Rest in Power, legend. Here’s to your legacy.
Featured image: Associated Press