By Nsenga Burton, Ph.D.,
NNPA Newswire Culture and Entertainment Editor,
The world is reeling from the loss of iconic actor Chadwick Boseman, who died Friday, August 28, after losing a private battle to colon cancer. Boseman died at home surrounded by his family.
A statement released by his family said Boseman was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer in 2016 and the disease progressed to stage 4. Boseman endured countless surgeries and treatments as he continued to make films from Marshall (directed by Reginald Hudlin), Da 5 Bloods (directed by Spike Lee) and August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (directed by George C. Wolfe and produced by Denzel Washington).
Washington and Boseman were first introduced when Washington paid for Boseman and several other Howard University students to continue their theater studies by taking a theater course in Oxford.
The Howard University-educated thespian was the star of Marvel’s Black Panther franchise, bringing to life one of the most important and revered superheroes in American film history.
Directed by Ryan Coogler, Black Panther was the first superhero movie to be nominated for a best picture Oscar and one of the highest-grossing films of all time, bringing in over $1billion.
Black Panther became more than a movie, morphing into a celebration of black culture, art, history, achievement and intellect in addition to highlighting the black cultural presence and influence in comic book culture.
Boseman was no stranger to playing iconic characters, bursting onto the big screen in 2013’s 42 as baseball legend Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in major league baseball. Boseman went on to star as Soul legend James Brown in 2014’s Get On Up and Thurgood Marshall in Marshall in 2017. Boseman brought a quiet dignity and powerful presence to these characters, with performances reflective of the weight they hold in world culture.
Prior to breaking into film, Boseman lived in New York, teaching at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture while cutting his teeth on small roles on shows like Law & Order, Third Watch, ER and Lie to Me, eventually landing recurring roles on Lincoln Heights and Persons Unknown.
It was Boseman’s turn as Jackie Robinson that cemented his film star status and his performance as T’Challa in Marvel’s Black Panther, that catapulted him to superstardom. Black Panther grew beyond the big screen and became a cultural phenomenon. Boseman, who hails from Anderson, South Carolina, gave moviegoers a king who was stoic, powerful and captivating as he led warriors with love, intellect and strategy as they fought to maintain control of their powerful, technologically superior nation, ripe for poaching by outsiders.
Much like the Gullah culture of his home state, Boseman was able to effortlessly blend African and American culture to help create a fantastical world on screen that was inspirational and recognizable.
Boseman led an all-star cast including Angela Bassett, Michael B. Jordan, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Sterling Brown, Winston Duke and Academy award-winning actors Lupita Nyong’o and Forrest Whitaker, holding his own and fortifying his status as a Hollywood superstar.
Boseman, who also appeared as T’Challa/Black Panther in Avengers Infinity War and Avengers: End Game, starred in and produced the films 21 Bridges, Marshall and Message from the King, which he served as executive producer. At the time of his death, Boseman was in pre-production as producer on Yasuke, a film about the world’s first black Samurai in which Boseman was slated to star.
In addition to acting and producing, Boseman was also an activist and philanthropist supporting social justice initiatives like Michelle Obama’s #WhenWeAllVote and celebrating fellow Bison Kamala Harris’ history making selection as the Democratic vice-presidential nominee for the 2020 U.S. Presidential election, which was his last Twitter post before his death.
In 2018, the wonderkind performer delivered a powerful commencement speech at Howard University encouraging students to rise above traumatic experiences and applauding their campus activism. Boseman, who was mentored by fellow Howard University alum Phylicia Rashad and helped financially by Denzel Washington as a student, donated $100,000 to #Change4Change, which supports HBCUs in November 2019.
The private public figure spent time visiting children suffering from cancer at St. Jude’s Research Center. In April 2020, the actor donated $4.2 million worth of PPE equipment to hospitals serving black communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The youngest of four, Boseman is survived by his parents Leroy and Carolyn Boseman, siblings Kevin, Dionne and Derrick and wife Taylor Simone Ledward. Boseman was 43.