I met Chadwick Boseman in 2017, in Buffalo, on the set of Marshall where he was starring as Thurgood Marshall. We talked, did a short interview, went to a small restaurant for dinner and argued about culture. There was some long fun debate about some aspect of music between me and director Reggie Hudlin and Boseman that lasted so long we all ended up closing down the restaurant. Off stage Boseman was reserved, a listener, someone who seemed to shrink into himself, and observe the world. Actors must be astute observers of people and of human nature and when Boseman wasn’t working he was watching and gathering details for his art.
I remember seeing him the next day off in a corner preparing for a scene by himself and he was clearly different. His face was steely and his eyes were laser-focused. His energy was palpable as if he were drawing it out and preparing to launch it at us. He was silent but he was harvesting his power. When he walked out on set he was sharp, he was ready, he knew his lines, his intentions, his positioning, and he knew how to radiate power. He could shine like the sun.
Boseman’s tragic death makes me think about how much he accomplished in such a short time on Earth and about how often he was cast as a leader. He was James Brown, he was Jackie Robinson, he was Thurgood Marshall. And he was Black Panther. Like so many of us, I took my children to see Black Panther the first weekend—because we had to make sure the movie was a success and we had to make sure our children saw this gorgeous vision of Africa with its technology and its tradition, with its power and dignity, and with its king who was both physically powerful and deeply intelligent, who understood global diplomacy, who was comfortable in the art of hand to hand combat and in large-scale generalship, and respected the spiritual world. And he loved his sister—perhaps my favorite moment in the film is during the all-out brawl when T’Challa is besieged by three or four monsters at once, they have down on his back, and then, in the distance he sees his sister Shuri in trouble, facing off with his archival Erik Killmonger. Suddenly a wave of power comes over T’Challa and he throws off the monsters and he rushes to save her. The Black Panther is one of the most inspiring Black characters in cinematic history—unapologetically Black and wise and strong and noble and charismatic and respectful of his mom, girlfriend, and little sister, and able to win hard fights and rebound from tough losses, and full of courage and confidence and soul. And I struggle to think of who else could have played him. Spike Lee also cast Boseman as a leader in his most recent film Da 5 Bloodz where four old veterans return to Vietnam to find the body of their fallen brother, Boseman’s Stormin Norman, who was their leader. He’s a mythic figure, a spiritually-aware soldier who teaches them how to survive in the jungle. A role that felt right for Boseman.
It has been hard for many people to explain Boseman’s death to their children. After we introduced him to them as our mythical African King, we now have to help them process that he is no longer here. It seems a cruel reminder of how hard life is for Black people in America—finally, in the midst of a cinematic golden age for Black people we have the power to get a big-budget film about a powerful modern African nation led by an amazing inspiring man and that film is a massive success, not just commercially, but spiritually as it creates this towering Black hero. And then, suddenly, death snatches him from us. This is the sort of pain that Black people in America have to deal with far too often. We just didn’t want our babies to feel it so early. But still, thank you, Chadwick for all the great moments from Black Panther to Black Jeopardy. Thank you for a great night in that Buffalo restaurant. You will never be forgotten. #Chadwickforever
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