In a year full of heartache, and one awful thing after another, we experience another tragedy. Chadwick Boseman has died aged 43, after a four-year battle against cancer.
For many Boseman is best exemplified by leading mega-blockbuster Black Panther in 2018. A film that made history for being a huge success, standing alone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for being a Black lead film. Boseman’s stoic performance as T’Challa was first seen in 2016 in Captain America: Civil War and soon after Ryan Coogler was hired to write and direct his solo movie. The film was a huge box office success, leading to a slew of academy award nominations and wins.
He reprised the role of T’Challa for the epic Avengers: Infinity War and again in Avengers: Endgame. His last time seen as T’Challa is him, holding his mother and a sister, looking out as Wakanda celebrates the victory against Thanos, his nation safe again.
But Boseman was more than just Black Panther, after making an appearance in The Express: The Ernie Davis Story, Boseman set about carving a niche taking on some of the most important Black Americans in film. He played Jackie Robinson in 42 (2013), James Brown in Get on Up (2014) and Thurgood Marshall in Marshall (2017), as well as appearance in Draft Day, Gods of Egypt,and Message from the King.
Boseman produced and starred in crime thriller 21 Bridges, a loving B movie homage to the crime thrillers of the 70s, fun the film is ultimately anchored by Boseman’s turn as a noble yet conflicted detective hunting down two criminals over one long night in Manhattan. His scenes opposite Stephan James are incredibly powerful, and show the sort of Michael Mann / Heat influence that Boseman spoke of.
His final film role released in his lifetime is Spike Lee’s war epic Da 5 Bloods where he plays the deceased hero of the group, Stormin’ Norm. It seems almost fitting that his final film release while alive was with one of the key Black directors of our time, and in one of his finest films too. Boseman nails the heroic leader, fighting in Vietnam but with an eye to the humanity that is needed.
We are left with two more performances from Boseman, in drama film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom opposite Viola Davis, based on the play by August Wilson and reprising his role of Black Panther in voice form for the Disney+ series What If…
Black children across the world may mourn the loss of their hero, and what will happen to Black Panther 2 remains unknown, though its success means that it’s quite possible we may see someone else take on the mantle in the wake of Boseman’s passing either as T’Challa (though hopefully not) or as a character who follows his legacy.
Whatever happens, Black Panther’s near-exclusive Black cast, and crew, with an unapologetically African feel means that it’s no longer viable to say blockbusters lead by non-white leads aren’t profitable. We will see the lasting impact as more and more diverse superhero films come to dominate the Box Office.
That, ultimately, is Boseman’s legacy. Not an individual achievement, but opening a door too long kept shut for thousands of stories of heroism to be told. Long live the king.
1976 – 2020