There’s no way else to say it: We’ve lost a true king.
Chadwick Boseman died Friday at the young age of 43 after fighting a private battle with colon cancer. In a year dominated by a global pandemic and racial strife, the shocking and heartbreaking loss of the “Black Panther” actor hits even harder.
Boseman brought Black icons to life with dignity and bravery while also making them human and relatable. With his expressive eyes and contemplative demeanor, the soulful actor inhabited the roles of baseball legend Jackie Robinson in “42” (2013), Godfather of Soul James Brown in “Get On Up” (2014) and pillar of justice Thurgood Marshall in “Marshall” (2017). His rising star was cemented when he took on the role of ground-breaking superhero Black Panther/T’Challa, the king of the fictional country of Wakanda, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In his too-brief career, Boseman lived several lifetimes onscreen.
I first became aware of Boseman in “42.” It was one of the first reviews I wrote for Take 2 Blog, and I was so nervous to write it. When it comes to film genres, I’m not as well-versed in sports films as I’d like to be. You’d have to ask Joe for recommendations in that field. But the inspiring biopic broke through to me. In his first starring role, the stoic Boseman exudes a quiet strength as the Brooklyn Dodgers trailblazer who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier.
The role required Boseman to show restraint in several situations where Robinson faced blatant racism. In one scene, Phillies Manager Ben Chapman (Alan Tudyk) screams a hate-filled speech at Robinson. Boseman leaves the field and finally breaks down, unleashing his pent-up frustration. But he pulls himself together and goes back out, playing as if nothing happened. It’s a remarkable performance and my favorite scene. I’ve always thought Boseman should have received an Academy Award nomination for best actor in the role.
I love “42.” It wasn’t lost on me that Boseman died the same day the MLB held its delayed Jackie Robinson Day. The film spotlights Boseman’s preference for meaningful roles.
When Boseman was cast as Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I knew the wise-beyond-his-years actor was perfect for it. In his debut in “Captain America: Civil War” (2016), Boseman holds his own against the franchise’s powerhouses, including Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America.
The role catapulted Boseman to superstardom in 2018’s “Black Panther,” making history along the way. With its rallying cry of “Wakanda Forever,” Marvel’s genre-busting masterpiece became a cultural juggernaut, featuring a Black superhero and a largely Black cast. The film made more than $1 billion at the world box office, showing that Black representation onscreen matters. Boseman became the face for an underrepresented audience, a mantle he carried with grace every step of the way.
As the reserved Black Panther/T’Challa, Boseman makes a virtuous and staid character compelling. Displaying a natural regality, Boseman navigates the new king’s desire to protect his people’s way of life with his growing realization that Wakanda has more to give the world, including those who share their African heritage. Boseman makes Black Panther a worthy leader whose relevance has only grown during the current climate of racial turmoil. T’Challa’s stirring speech at the end of the film seems especially fitting: “Now, more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.”
“Black Panther” became the first comic book film nominated for an Academy Award and the first MCU film to take home an Oscar. In our Take 2 Oscars wrap-up video after the 2019 Academy Awards, we celebrated the film’s award haul of three trophies. After we bemoaned “Green Book” winning the night’s top prize, Joe asked which film nominated for best picture would have the most far-reaching impact. Without a moment’s hesitation, I said “Black Panther – it already has.”
The superhero’s evolution continued in “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018) and “Avengers: Endgame” (2019), with the sovereign willing to sacrifice himself to save the universe. Boseman’s Black Panther was among the first resurrected in “Endgame,” a scene that drew cheers during my theater’s showing. It tugs on the heartstrings even more after his death.
What’s especially hard to fathom is Boseman filmed most of his action-oriented roles after he was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016. During a four-year stretch that included numerous surgeries and treatments, he made four MCU movies, the crime drama “21 Bridges” (2019) and this summer’s Vietnam epic “Da 5 Bloods.” In addition to an array of villains onscreen, Boseman was battling his own body behind the scenes – and none of us knew it. This makes every one of his appearances even more impressive.
In the last movie released before his death, Boseman gave another standout performance in Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods,” the most significant film of the year. Boseman shined as Stormin’ Normin’, the commander of a Black unit of soldiers who is killed at Vietnam and memorialized by his friends. The actor now shares a tragic similarity with the character. Stormin’ Normin is portrayed as mythic, a great leader gone too soon. Now Boseman, a great actor gone before his time, will be viewed the same way.
Even as I write this, I still can’t believe Chadwick Boseman is gone. He was young yet wise, gentle yet formidable. He played real people and made fictional ones feel real. I loved him as Black Panther, and he will always be Black Panther to me. His life was short, but his impact looms large.
Thank you, Chadwick Boseman, for the roles you gave us. You were not only a king onscreen, but in real life. Wakanda Forever.
I first saw Chadwick Boseman play football Hall of Famer Floyd Little in 2008’s “The Express.” That was pretty much a cameo as the film is about Ernie Davis, but five years later Boseman stepped into the shoes of one of the most iconic athletes of all time.
The trailer for 2013’s “42” didn’t sell me on whether it would be a good movie, but a film about Jackie Robinson had to be seen. The man broke the color barrier in baseball. Who was this guy playing him? Who is Chadwick Boseman? A lot of times it’s a good idea to go with a no-name to play an iconic character because if you use a notable actor sometimes it’s difficult to not just see that actor. However, this was a big deal. It doesn’t get more iconic than Jackie Robinson. This guy Boseman better be something. Well, he was not only something. He put together one of the greatest and most influential eight-year stretches an actor ever had.
Although I never saw Robinson play, I thought Boseman’s approach to the role was perfect. “42” builds toward some great moments and Boseman as Robinson has to remain reserved in order to progress toward those important scenes. The movie establishes early that Robinson will go through hell just to play baseball and that he needs to have the strength not to fight back when he is verbally and emotionally abused. My favorite part of the movie comes when the Phillies manager pummels Robinson with the n-word and he has to hold in his rage because the weight of an entire race is on his shoulders. After grabbing a bat and contemplating fighting back, Boseman as Robinson retreats to the dugout tunnel, screams and pounds the bat against the wall until it shatters. He falls to the ground in tears as Branch Rickey (played phenomenally by Harrison Ford) comes to talk to him. It’s just one of the few powerful scenes that stand out, and it’s definitely the most memorable. It was all set up by Boseman’s brilliant acting. His success undoubtedly landed him roles as other Black icons James Brown in 2014’s “Get on Up” and Thurgood Marshall in 2017’s “Marshall.” Regrettably, I haven’t seen those two. I guess I just never got around to them. I’ll have to now.
Before jumping into what he is known most for, Boseman did another sports movie, 2014’s “Draft Day.” I had no idea Boseman was in it. It just seemed like it would be another enjoyable Kevin Costner sports film. That’s exactly what it was, but it’s also incredibly rewatchable. While Boseman is a supporting character, he shines every time he is on screen and creates an awesome moment without having to speak. For those of you who haven’t seen “Draft Day,” I’m about to spoil a major plot point of the movie in case you care. When the movie starts, Vontae Mack believes the Cleveland Browns might take him with the seventh overall pick in the NFL draft. Well, the Browns, led by Sonny Weaver Jr. (Costner), trade up to get the first pick in the draft. Mack knows this means Cleveland is going with one of the greatest quarterback prospects ever Bo Callahan (Josh Pence). In a shocking twist, Weaver picks Mack anyway with the first overall choice. The face Boseman makes as Mack as he hears Roger Goodell say his name is priceless. I remember being in the theater just laughing as the moment brought me so much joy. That’s one movie that greatly exceeded my expectations. It’s a movie my family and I still enjoy to this day. It’s a film my co-worker Scott Walsh and I still quote often. Seeing that scene with Boseman in theaters was the moment I knew I loved the movie.
After I became familiar with Boseman, it was announced he would play Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As with a lot of characters introduced, I didn’t know anything about Black Panther. Nevertheless, I was excited because I knew Boseman. In a couple years he went from “Who is this?” to “Oh, he’s a great actor. He’s a great addition.” I could not have predicted what was to come. Before we get to one of the most influential films ever, I think Boseman deserves a lot of credit for his first role as the character.
2016’s “Captain America: Civil War” was the debut of T’Challa/Black Panther (Boseman). The character has a strong subplot as T’Challa’s father is murdered. T’Challa has to wrestle with his anger as he seeks revenge. However, when he has the opportunity to kill the man responsible, he doesn’t go through with it and grows as a person. He doesn’t allow vengeance to consume him as it is consuming everyone around him. Boseman plays it perfectly in a poignant moment with Daniel Bruhl (who plays Zemo) toward the end of the film. Also, the Black Panther character is just cool. Great character design and impressive abilities. This was just a taste of what we would see two years later.
Leading up to 2018’s “Black Panther,” I was very excited because I knew it had to be good. That movie had an unbelievable amount of talent from director Ryan Coogler to each and every cast member. Still, I never thought it would reach the heights it did.
“Black Panther” is the highest grossing Marvel Cinematic Universe film that doesn’t have the word “Avengers” in it. It is the 12th highest grossing movie of all time after peaking at nine. It was the first comic book film ever nominated for best picture and won three Oscars. It won most outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. That victory actually gave me some hope that it would win best picture, but that went to “Green Book” for reasons I still can’t explain. But I digress. That’s just a few accolades that are not as important as the influence “Black Panther” has had on people around the world. As a white man, I could only imagine what a Black superhero has meant to the Black community. However, the beauty of it, as Boseman once said during an interview on ESPN’s “First Take,” is that he saw not just Black kids wanting to be Black Panther, but kids of all races looking up to the superhero.
I’m sure you’ve seen the movie, but if you haven’t seen “Black Panther” at this point you know it’s great. As I mentioned before, it has an incredible ensemble with Boseman at its center. Boseman has a difficult task of serving as king, yet establishing a vulnerability. It’s a complex character as he has to learn how to lead and Boseman of course nails it. The writing, directing and cast are amazing, but that movie does not work without Boseman at it’s center. It’s one of the most influential movies and characters of all time that we will see benefit cinema for years to come much like 2017’s “Wonder Woman” has already done for women.
While 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War” and 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame” aren’t showcases for Black Panther, Boseman and the character do come through with some memorable scene in limited screen time.
In “Infinity War,” it always gives me chills when T’Challa leads the “Yibambe!” chant. He also screams “Wakanda Forever!” before sprinting into battle. It pumped me up so much even I had to cross my arms after he said it. It’s also awesome when T’Challa runs ahead of the army alongside Captain America. It beautifully shows the courage and strength of the two men without having anybody say a word. Also, at the end, T’Challa was one of the many who turned to ash. That shocked me in the theater. That was one of the most crushing deaths.
Thank God he returned in “Endgame” as he was the first one who exited Dr. Strange’s rings, another incredibly powerful scene.
His genius didn’t stop there as he was part of one of the best and most important films of 2020, “Da 5 Bloods.” Boseman plays a mythical figure, which was different from any role I saw him play before. He established a supreme presence in “Da 5 Bloods,” exactly what the film needed. Boseman was again part of some emotionally resonant scenes. Although he worked with limited screen time, he had an immense impact on the film.
That was eight years of film and there are some movies during that stretch I haven’t seen yet. Boseman was without a doubt destined for at least one Oscar and I was excited to see what more he would do. It was around the time of “Da 5 Bloods” when there was a picture that surfaced where he looked very skinny. I assumed it was for his role in “Da 5 Bloods,” but it turned out he was battling colon cancer for four years. During this time he worked on 11 films and became one of the most notable actors in the world. The inspiration of that alone is jarring. It makes me sad that we’ll never get to see what he could have been and what impact he would have had on the community or the world for that matter. While we’ll continue to mourn him, I think it’s important to try to remember how lucky we are that we had him in our lives at all. Boseman played three Black icons and became one of the most influential superhero characters of all time in a span of eight years.
I don’t know what he did in the community or what he meant to the people who knew him, but judging by the response Boseman did and meant a whole lot. The world probably needs him now more than ever, but I’ll be forever grateful he gave us all he had while he was here. I’ll never forget him and I thank him for adding so much joy to my life even though we never met.
Rest in peace, King T’Challa. Wakanda forever.
Rebecca Kivak and Joe Baress write about movies for Take 2 blog. Together, they review current flicks and offer their insights into the latest movie news. Rebecca is a copy editor and page designer at The Times-Tribune. She started her career with Times-Shamrock Newspapers in 2005 and has won several professional journalism awards for page design and headline writing. She also covers NASCAR races from Pocono Raceway. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5126; @TTRebeccaKivak