What I’m going to write here won’t be anything that isn’t also being written in other blogs, news articles and social media posts all over the world. Since it was announced over the weekend that Chadwick Boseman’s life had been tragically cut short, at the impossibly young age of 43, the outpouring of love has been immeasurable. My words won’t be of any comfort to anyone, but I’d like to add some words for a man so many people, myself included, considered a hero.
Waking up to the news that Chadwick had died felt like yet another sick joke in the twisted delirium that is 2020. It’s not enough that Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gigi died, or that we’re trying to peak our head out over a post pandemic precipice with the global death toll almost in 7 figures, tragic death after tragic senseless death at the hands of police towards African Americans, as well as people of colour being disproportionality victimised by bad policing across the globe, we’ve got tangerine head intent on pushing the world towards tyranny, flanked by his circus clown Etonian pen pal, all of this testing the sanity of any right minded and forward thinking human being. Just when you think it can’t get any worse Jackie Robinson, by way of James Brown and Thurgood Marshall and most importantly, for me, King T’Challa the Black Panther himself, was cruelly and devastatingly taken away from us. 2020 you’re a prick.
This one stung. Sometimes people you never know profoundly affect you. Be it musicians, athletes, artists, people of Chadwick’s magnitude leave behind legacies. At this time, it will be no comfort to his family or friends that we, as fans/admirers of his work, can always watch one of his films and be reminded of his poise, presence and uncanny ability to embody a role; be it fictional or based on a real life person. However, I’m sure they will know that he was a star on screen and off screen, as well as being the true embodiment of a hero. Again, nothing new or original here, but as absolutely shit as this all is, there is something to behold in the legacy he leaves behind, and how he chose to deal with his illness. Despite being diagnosed in 2016 he continued to make film after film, inspiring millions, all while battling a monstrous illness. In an ever increasing narcissistic and cynical world that we find ourselves in, there is something truly inspiring to find anyone, let alone a huge star, attain and treasure his own privacy. Stoicism, charm, stature are some of the words often used to describe his most beloved character King T’Challa/Black Panther, but they clearly are befitting of the man as well.
There are a few moments in his career I’d like to mention. Firstly his performance in Get On Up, the James Brown biopic, where he filled the legendary musician’s shoes. It was the first time I’d ever seen Chadwick and was unaware of any of his earlier work, but I was sold on him within the first few minutes when he comes crashing (quite literally) into the scene as the aged Brown. The film is a by the numbers biopic, but his performance is stunning. James Brown has one of the most recognisable voices, faces, walks and all round demeanours of the past 60 years. To take that on and shine in the role, whereas many would be swallowed by the magnitude of the task, just showed from the get go that this man was destined for stardom.
Stardom wasn’t far away after taking on the role of T’Challa in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He was introduced in Captain America: Civil War and almost steals the show, despite being a guest character. However, there are three specific moments across three films I’d like to mention. Please indulge me, I’m a nerd.
Towards the start of the film when T’Challa returns to Wakanda, he enters a ceremony to crown him King. He steps off his ship and looks up the cliff top, as does the stunned viewer, to reveal people from all over Wakanda representing different cultures and tribes. In this moment you see a representation of Black heritage, specifically African heritage, adorned across the screen in a major Hollywood production. The first time I saw this at the cinema, I leant back in my chair and knew we were in good hands. I had no doubt going in, as the director and assembled cast were special, but in that moment as T’Challa looks out with all the grace we came to know and expect, I knew that this film was something entirely different to anything that had come before it.
Avengers: Infinity War
There are two moments with Chadwick in this film that send shivers down my spine. As Thanos’ minions have descended on Wakanda to wage war on his land to gain possession of the remaining Infinity Stones, we find both sides about to engage in battle. Once the Avengers decide to charge at the enemy, the rallying cry is T’Challa shouting, the now legendary, “Wakanda Forever!!”. I have seen this film a ridiculous amount of times and it sends tingles from the tip of my toes up to my large heard, every single time. If I was there and he shouted that, I’ll be sprinting right behind him, just as long as I could get a quick warm up.
Speaking of sprinting, this is immediately followed by the troops charging towards Thanos’ Chitauri army. As the camera pans out it becomes evident that T’Challa and, Chris Evans’, Captain America are out-sprinting everyone. I can’t really explain it, it’s two men dressed as super heroes running fast, coupled with the fact that there’s a CGI element to make them appear much faster than everyone else. But I just love it. It’s the same reason I like watching the 100m races in the Olympics. The difference being the outfits are better here.
Finally, before I turn into uber nerd number one, the battle scene preceded by the reveal of our previously fallen heroes in Infinity War, for my money is the greatest thing to ever happen to mankind. This is probably slightly hyperbolic, but the moment I saw this in the cinema for the first time is one of the best moments of my life. It was cinematic euphoria. I won’t go on, as I’ve done that before, but the genesis of the moment is T’Challa, flanked by his sister Shuri and general Okoye, walking through the portal. Prior to this, we’re in a moment of despair and it’s the three Wakandan’s who take us out of it. Seeing that image now, feels all the more poignant. It is a moment of hope, wonder and beauty.
Chadwick Boseman you shall forever be missed and I will always be grateful for the moments of joy you’ve brought to me, and millions of people like me. Rest in power.