Pressure can burst pipes or create diamonds, right? Think of the pressure bestowed on an actor to play one of the most anticipated characters for a multi-billion film studio that was on a financial and creative roll. That was the plight of burgeoning actor Chadwick Boseman when word came from Marvel Studios in October 2014 that the Black Panther was officially part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and that Boseman was selected to introduce the character to the world at large.
The news didn’t quite register outside of comic book culture and Hollywood, but those who ran in those aforementioned circles waited with bated breath. Can the first superhero of African descent resonate to a mainstream audience? The answer was provided at the 35 minute 19 second mark in the 2016 film “Captain America: Civil War,” when Boseman as Prince T’Challa was shown on the screen. Within the first few minutes of dialogue we saw in Boseman all the attributes that warranted his selection to the project as he was regal, articulate, respectful and honorable. When his story arc was introduced into the plot of the film, we found that he too was a superhero! His powers and charisma were on par with some of the greatest comic book characters committed to screen in Iron Man, Captain America and Spiderman. The character had successfully piqued the interest of fans of the genre and a stand-alone film was etched in stone.
February 2018 marked the release of the film “Black Panther” and a seismic shift in cinematic and pop culture was made. Critical acclaim culminated in seven Academy Award Nominations, with the film winning three of those. As for Hollywood, 1.3 BILLION at the box office was quite the eye-opener. The Marvel Cinematic Universe had a new powerbroker in their midst with the Chadwick Boseman helmed franchise.
In an episode of “Close Up with The Hollywood Reporter’s Actors Roundtable” which aired in January 2019, Boseman shared what were the challenges of the role. “To say I know so much about my past, I know so much about my history, as an African American I’ve searched for that my entire life, but to be a person that didn’t have to search for it. It was given to me,” he chided. “Not only do I know but I value it. There’s a certain patriotism to something that has never been lost and being able to hold on to that was something that throughout the movie I was like, ‘Wow the weight of that is something that I have to convey to the world’ because you can do that movie and it’s a parody of that idea and it becomes insulting. So for me it was constantly wanting to convey that this is real, because it is.” Conceiving, believing and ultimately achieving African diasporas’ sustained excellence and muscle. It had never before been served up in that manner.
From the film “Captain America: Civil War” T’Challa shared, “In my culture, death is not the end; it’s more of a stepping off point. You reach out with both hands and Bast and Sekhmet, they lead you into a green veld where…you can run forever.” Sadly appropriate in that as a role in the fictional nation Wakanda, the Black Panther has been a protector of the land for generations and the mantle is passed from warrior to warrior. With those words it can be assured that the franchise will continue. In fact petitions are being floated as to who should continue the saga, sadly putting the primary focus on a character instead of the character of the man. A 43-year-old man whose career was still ascending. A man who still had stories to unveil, characters to interpret and artists to inspire. A man who was also keen on that fact that he was a man of integrity. We saw that he was having a physical transformation that was worrisome. Some voiced genuine concern, some chose to clown. Chadwick chose silence. Telling about his disposition was his revelation from the aforementioned “Close Up with The Hollywood Reporter’s Actors Roundtable.” “You have to find those spaces that are still yours, you set boundaries where you say, ‘I’m not gonna give that part away.’ People will get upset at times and say, ‘Hey I supported you,’ but to that I say, ‘I gave you the art, you enjoyed the art. But this autograph…I’m willing to give it to you, but what I gave you before is what’s real. I love you—this is the part that I have to keep so that I can continue to do the work.’” The work of the brother Chadwick Aaron Boseman will live on. Hopefully his ethic and standards will be as reputed as his art!