Last week saw the death of legendary actor Chadwick Boseman, leaving the whole world in shock. Chadwick passed away at the age of 43, after a four-year battle with colon cancer, which he kept private from public knowledge. The announcement was made in a tweet, the most-liked tweet in Twitter’s history, and was followed by tributes from those he had worked with, including Robert Downey Jr, Angela Bassett and Denzel Washington, and many others whose lives he had touched.
“Chadwick was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, and battled with it these last 4 years as it progressed to stage IV,” the announcement read, “It was the honor of his career to bring King T’Challa to life in Black Panther”.
Best known for playing T’Challa in Black Panther and the following Avengers films, Chadwick had undeniable talent that gave Black communities hope and something to aspire to. For Black culture, the release of the film will always be hugely significant: for a community who have been starved of representation for years, young Black children could finally see themselves in those on the big screen. Thanks to movements like #OscarsSoWhite, Black representation has finally been made a priority in recent years, and despite there still being a long way to go, Black Panther was monumental in the fight towards seeing more Black actors on screen and getting recognised for their talent.
“We’ve got to keep telling our stories because our experiences are so broad and rich and multifaceted, there isn’t just one way to be Black,” said Oprah Winfrey, speaking on representation in the film industry. “The more stories we share, the more reflective we can be of the whole diverse African-American community”
Worldwide, Black Panther’s success was huge: over the four day opening weekend, the film made $427k worldwide, and was announced as the film with the fifth highest opening ever, and the highest opening of all time for a film in February. The film also made history by winning three Oscars, the first Academy Awards ever for Marvel Studios. In Chadwick’s acceptance speech, he spoke on the reality of the film industry, “We all know what it’s like to be told that there is not a place for you to be featured. Yet you are young, gifted and Black. We know what it’s like to be told there’s not a screen for you to be featured on, a stage for you to be featured on. We know what it’s like to be the tail and not the head. We know what it’s like to be beneath and not above.”
I remember seeing Black Panther in the cinema. I loved it so much that I even went back to see it a second time. Seeing Chadwick play the first Black superhero and do it justice was special. It made me question why it took so long for me to see a Black superhero on my screen for the first time, but mostly, it filled me with hope and optimism. I thought about how it must have felt to be a young Black child watching Black Panther for the first time.
But Chadwick was not just a superhero on screen, he was also a real life superhero. Starring in 10 films, including Black Panther, all after being diagnosed with cancer and going through chemotherapy and surgery. Not to mention insisting on doing all of his own stunts in Black Panther, even doing Martial Arts training in preparation. When he found out directors were planning to use a stunt double, he protested against this. Speaking on the situation in an interview with the Off Camera Show, he explains, “I’m on the side watching [the stunt double] do it, and every time he did it, I was like, ‘That’s wrong. That’s wrong. That’s wrong.’ I [gave them] so much sh*t that they [couldn’t] even shoot the scene.” Chadwick’s work ethic was undoubtable, something he previously said that he learned his work ethic from his father. “I saw him work a lot of third shifts, a lot of night shifts,” he told New York Times in 2019.
In a recently resurfaced interview, we hear Chadwick allude briefly to his illness, “You’ve been through the wringer,” the reporter said. To which Chadwick replied, “Oh, you don’t even know [laughs]. You have no idea. One day I’ll live to tell the story.”
In fact, Chadwick made special efforts to give back to those on the same journey he was on. While speaking at a conference, Chadwick was in tears as he paid tribute to two young terminally ill fans who passed away before they were able to see Black Panther. “Throughout our filming, I was communicating with them, knowing that they were both terminal. What they said to me and what their parents said, they were…trying to hold on ’til this movie comes,” he explained. “You hear them say that and you’re like, ‘Wow… I gotta get up and go to the gym, I gotta get up and go to work, I gotta learn these lines.'”
Now, Wakanda Forever has a whole new meaning. I will always associate Black Panther with Chadwick’s legacy and I’m sure the same goes for much of the Black community in the way that he empowered a new generation through his talent, strength and resilience. This news reaffirmed to me that you just never know what is happening in someone’s life. And I hope that there is soon an end to the culture of obsessing over as well as criticising the lives of celebrities, despite being unaware of their struggles they’ve had to deal with.