By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, MSJ
I was as shocked as anyone to hear the news that talented, young Chadwick Boseman had passed away after a four-year battle living and surviving with colon cancer. The community and world are probably more shocked, because his cancer diagnosis had been kept secret, as Boseman filmed and appeared in a few movies since 2016. Reportedly, he went for chemo treatments and surgeries in between the movies that he completed during those four years.
The groundswell of support for his work and sympathy, and regret regarding his death has been phenomenal in just two days, as of the writing of this column. The tweet announcing his death has been confirmed to be the “most liked tweet ever,” with 5.7 million likes. The only other tweet to come close was from former President Barack Obama, when he quoted Nelson Mandela back in 2017, which had been “liked” more than 4.3 million times.
Sports teams across the nation paid tribute to Boseman in a number of different ways. Governor Henry McMaster of South Carolina ordered Statehouse flags to be lowered to half-staff on Sunday, August 30, with those flags being delivered to Boseman’s family at an appropriate time.
The ABC Network, which is owned by Disney, which distributed the blockbuster film “Black Panther” ran a viewing of the film, with no interruptions. This is a rarity in itself, and this broadcasting of “Black Panther” could have been a result of tremendous social media pressure put on Disney+ to give access so fans could see “Black Panther” for free.
Now some may wonder why such a reaction to Boseman’s passing. Well, in my opinion, Boseman was a fantastic actor, with so many great performances under his belt. And then there’s this small matter of revenue. “Black Panther” won three Oscars, was nominated for Best Picture and grossed more than $1.3 billion worldwide (this was the figure in May 2018).
“Black Panther” is a 2018 American superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name. Produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, it is the 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
The film was directed by Ryan Coogler, and it stars Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther alongside Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Guira, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, among others. In the film, T’Challa is crowned king of Wakanda (a fictional country appearing in the Marvel Comics) following his father’s death, but he is challenged by Killmonger (Jordan) who plans to abandon the country’s isolationist policies and begin a global revolution. Faced with treachery and danger, the young king must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people.
It is a terrific film, showing Black folks as designers of their own destinies and living in a world [Wakanda] that is rich in technology, community and wealth. These representations were new for many in the Black community, but this film is a fan favorite with people from all walks of life the world over—particularly Black youth.
After the presentation of “Black Panther,” the network aired “Chadwick Boseman A Tribute to a King.” Those interviewed during this special had high regard for Boseman:
One Marvel Studios principal said: Chadwick’s performance in “42” made them take a second look at him, and he was a great fit for “Black Panther.”
Robert Downey Jr., who plays Iron Man in that franchise said that Boseman had enjoyed watching what “Black Panther” meant to people.
“He was a light and a light that should have gone on for decades to come,” said ABC’s Robin Roberts. “Wakanda Forever, in so many ways summed up centuries of struggle. It was a movement, a cultural moment that changed everything before it and after.”
It’s ironic that Boseman died on the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington, and on the day that athletes celebrated “Jackson Robinson Day,” August 28. One of the first mainstream movies in which Boseman acted was when he played Jackie Robinson in “42” in 2013.
Other celebrities offering tribute in the ABC special were Don Cheadle who said, “I didn’t have enough time with Chad.”
Mark Ruffalo called Boseman a good and decent human being.
“He gave all of us and all of our children an example of a great leader,” commented Angelina Jolie. “He truly was a superhero,” said Oprah, who also added, “It is not just a loss that we are feeling. We are going to feel his absence.”
Whoopi added: “This loss is felt around the world. He is Wakanda forever.”
“You were my Black panther,” said Winston Duke.
During a previous interview, Boseman when asked about playing James Brown in the 2014 film “Get On Up,” he said that he was absolutely not ready to play Brown. “James Brown’s groove was the hardest thing [to get].”
In another interview, Boseman commented on playing Robinson. “When you play someone who lived so courageously, you rise to the occasion. I wouldn’t be here were it not for those men that I portrayed. I was James Brown in the lab [in ‘Black Panther’], and I was holding court a bit on the throne, which added a bit of Thurgood Marshall.”
Phylicia Rashad, who helped facilitate payment for Boseman’s training at the prestigious summer program at the drama department of London’s Oxford University from actor Denzel Washington, said that Boseman will be known for his commitment to justice and purpose.
Author Ta-Nehisi Coates said: “Chad was my brother,” referring to their Howard University connection. “He was a very, very conscious dude and didn’t feel as if he had to take a role to make money. He brought a regal spirit to the [‘Black Panther’] role.”
However, amid all the accolades and tributes, the clarion call was for people to get colorectal screenings. It is unimaginable to know that Boseman delivered such great performances while he went from stage 3 to stage 4 cancer. Kimmie Ng, M.D., of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, says that there will be an estimated 120,000 cases of colorectal cancer, with an estimated 50,000 deaths in 2020. Fola May, M.D., from UCLA, said that more Black Americans get and die from colorectal cancer, saying that the best tribute to Boseman would be to educate about the importance of screening.
Boseman was born in Anderson, South Carolina, and leaves behind his wife, Taylor Simone Ledward, parents Leroy and Carolyn Boseman and other family members.