What Chadwick Boseman’s Death Has Taught Us
After his cancer diagnosis, Chadwick Boseman filmed Black Panther, Avengers Infinity War, Avengers Endgame, 21 Bridges, Da 5 Bloods and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (yet to be released); all whilst undergoing treatment and surgeries. Not only did he act in those films, he attended countless press conferences, interviews and premiers, showing up time after time.
Sideman (David Whitely), really said it best: "Chadwick Boseman made us see what resilience can look like, so every time we experience setbacks we know the option is there to press on, because he pressed on."
Chadwick’s life was dedicated to pushing the narrative of how Black people appear on screens, especially in the character of King T’Challa in Black Panther. Through a single role, he inspired a generation of young Black people, giving us a multifaceted representation of Black humanity. Cultural boundaries were broken down, showing Black children the superhero within themselves, giving hopeful actors the belief that a positive lead Black role is attainable, and helping the rest of the community to realise that they can achieve their dreams. The entire film showcased a range of complex Black characters with more than one image of strength, power, intelligence and beauty.
Breaking box office records, the success of Black Panther was a message to directors, film makers and all of Hollywood. The success translated across the world and demanded the industry change the way it sees the Black community. Chadwick may have played a king, but it was him who served us.
Throughout the filming of Black Panther, Chadwick was in contact with two children who had terminal cancer. Their parents told Chadwick they were ‘trying to hold on till this movie comes’, which he revealed was his drive to get up every day and dedicate himself to the role. Seeing how much it meant to those young boys, motivated Chadwick to make sure he knew his lines, train at 4 o'clock in the morning before a full day of filming and give his all to the movie. Those young children had already anticipated something great and Chadwick knew the film was something special to give to them and the world. His compassion and need to give back by helping others was evident when he broke down in an interview acknowledging the boys’ passing. Little did we know Chadwick was battling the disease himself.
Not only was he an inspiration to Black people across the world with his role in Black Panther, Chadwick was doing the work himself long before. Producers fired him from All My Children after he had the courage to raise his concerns about the racist stereotypes of ‘no hopes or talents’ in the script (a role later given to Michael B. Jordan) and turned down other roles for the same reasons. Chadwick also partnered with causes that worked to donate $4.2million worth of PPE to hospitals caring for African American communities most affected by coronavirus. In 2018 Larry King interviewed Chadwick and asked him where he’d want to be in 10 years. He responded ‘happy’, that he wanted to have ‘done everything with his family that makes them happy.’ Needless to say, Chadwick stood up for what he believed in.
Chadwick was and remains a symbol, showing all that there is a place for Black people to be featured in the world. His charisma and values shone through in interviews, increasing the admiration that so many people have for him.
When returning to Howard University, where he attended college, to give the commencement speech, Chadwick wanted everyone to know: "You would rather find purpose than a job or a career. Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfil.”
It’s only now, looking back on his words, that we see they have another meaning and profound impact on us. We are in awe of Chadwick, who embodied every word he spoke that day, changing history before the impact of Black Panther. After his diagnosis he could have stopped, right before the biggest break-through in his career. Instead he pushed through, achieving with dignity everything he knew was meant for him.
Chadwick's legacy is a reminder to us all that life can be fragile and that we have to take advantage of every moment, pushing through regardless of the resistance we face.
“… remember the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.” - Chadwick Boseman 2018.
Thank you Chadwick. Rest In Peace.
Written by Simone Robinson
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