Death almost always affects the lives of surviving family and friends. But what about the lives of millions?
This idea applies to beloved actor Chadwick Boseman, whose sudden death left many heartbroken and in disbelief. Diagnosed in 2016 with stage III colon cancer, which later progressed to stage IV, Boseman passed away at the age of 43 on August 28. From his first major role on the series Persons Unknown, to his rise as Jackie Robinson in 42 and other iconic roles like Get on Up’s James Brown and Marshall’s Thurgood Marshall, Boseman cemented his name everywhere by becoming the Black Panther — King T’Challa of Wakanda, the first African-American lead hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
But his heroism extended off screen. Boseman carried energy from his characters with him; it’s who he was as a person. Even without knowing him personally, you could see it in his performance, in his passion, and in his smile. What we didn’t know was that while Boseman battled antagonists on-screen, he battled cancer behind the scenes. Few people knew about his illness as he never announced it publicly. And so, we fell further into disbelief when we learned that several of his performances were filmed in between treatments, including his last film, August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which will be released posthumously.
Throughout his career, Boseman’s talent and dedication earned him multiple acting nominations and awards, from the People’s Choice Award for Male Movie Star of the Year to the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture. In 2018, he also received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Howard University.
But among Boseman’s many accomplishments, his greatest was being a symbol of power. His performances proved that representation still and always will matter. Whatever your age, background, or orientation, seeing someone like yourself in media provides comfort. It reminds you that you’re important. That your culture is important and that your voices deserve to be heard. He was an inspiration for the Black community and for people of colour everywhere. Though he’s passed on, Boseman has forever helped pave the path to greater diversity in film.
After Boseman’s death, millions of family, friends, and fans expressed their mourning. On social media, people began posting about how he inspired them, especially parents of younger children. Many celebrities chimed in as well to recollect their memories of Boseman, including many of his co-stars within the MCU. Disney also honoured the actor with a stunning mural in Anaheim’s Downtown Disney created by Nikkolas Smith. Inspired by his time working as a Disney Imagineer on the Children’s Hospital project and the Avengers Campus, Smith’s mural depicts Boseman kneeling next to a child wearing a Black Panther mask, both with their arms crossed in the “Wakanda Forever” salute. In the caption of Smith’s Instagram post, he says, “To millions of kids, T’Challa was a legend larger than life, and there was no one more worthy to fill those shoes than Chadwick Boseman.”
And so, what happens now? It might hurt to revisit his films, but they’ll always be celebrated. Boseman will be remembered for his strength, his generosity, and his talent. He’ll be remembered for inspiring the Black community, and children around the world. It isn’t easy being a King that millions look up to, but Boseman did it with enthusiasm and dignity.
On Black Panther, Boseman once said: “It’s fun to watch just what it means to people. At times I’ll think, well what does this do for the world? Like, is it actually valuable in this climate? And I have to say yes, it actually is, not because it makes people escape. I think when done right, it gives people hope. I found that it means a lot.”