By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.
The late actor Chadwick Boseman had a wealth of film experiences under his belt, and he was marvelous in all of them, including many others in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise besides “Black Panther,” which included “Captain America: Civil War,” “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers Endgame.” In previous issues of the Crusader, I have written a few columns about some of Boseman’s other movies, and I’ll recap some of these for readers who may not be familiar.
“Marshall” – 2017
The opening of the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival in 2017 was a tremendous success, attended by hundreds who saw Reginald Hudlin’s film “Marshall.” In attendance were the film’s stars Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Sterling K. Brown, Jussie Smollett and Marina Squerciati, as well as Hudlin, producer Paula Wagner and John Marshall, the son of Justice Thurgood Marshall.
“Marshall” is based on a true incident in the life of Thurgood Marshall, when he was a young NAACP lawyer, long before his appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.
As the nation teeters on the brink of World War II, a nearly bankrupt NAACP sends Marshall to conservative Connecticut to defend a Black chauffeur against his wealthy socialite employer in a sexual assault and attempted murder trial that quickly became tabloid fodder. In need of a high-profile victory but muzzled by a segregationist court, Marshall is partnered with Samuel Friedman, a young Jewish lawyer who has never tried a case.
Marshall and Friedman struggle against a hostile storm of fear and prejudice, driven to discover the truth in the sensationalized trial, which helped set the groundwork for the Civil Rights Movement to come. At the time, Chicago International Film Festival Founder and President Michael Kutza said, “The film was tremendously popular with our guests, and it was a great way to launch this year’s Festival. “We are so grateful to Paula [Wagner] for allowing us to open with such a powerful and important film.”
I covered this festival and many before it for the Crusader, and I was able to snap a photo of Boseman on the red carpet. Again, Boseman was at his best in portraying an iconic Black leader, as Marshall went on to successfully argue in the Supreme Court for the desegregation of public schools in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954. At that time, Marshall was the head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and later was appointed the first Black Supreme Court Justice by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967, where Marshall served until 1991.
“Get On Up” – 2014
OK, so I gushed all through “Get On Up,” as Boseman gave a stellar performance in portraying the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. While I am not sure if Boseman mouthed the words, as Brown’s records play in the background, Boseman is to be commended for having all the swagger and speech and physical mannerisms of Brown to have made this a phenomenal movie.
In “Get on Up,” backers that include rock star Mick Jagger show many aspects of Brown’s life—as a poor back woods, snotty-nosed, starving country kid, superstar, social activist and womanizer, as well as woman beater.
Rapper Black Thought played one of The Flames, and Nelsan Ellis, the late Harvey native who played Bobby Byrd, was great as the second man to Brown’s stardom. Jill Scott played one of Brown’s wives, Dee Dee, whom he physically abused. She basically served to help him count his money and raise his young son Teddy. Film great Viola Davis played Brown’s estranged mother, Susie, and Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer was Aunt Honey.
Boseman hit the ball out of the park again with “Get On Up,” and although many times a person was hard pressed to understand what Brown was saying, there is no confusion with this movie. Boseman portrayed a man known around the world but one who was lonely within his own space.
“42” – 2013
“42” starred Boseman as Jackie Robinson and is a film that is drenched in history regarding the first Black player to play major league baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson wore number 42 for the team in 1947, when he integrated the sport.
This integration was deliberate, as baseball club owner Branch Rickey, who was a man of great faith in God, decided it was time to end segregation within the sport, as he scouted out which Black player would perfectly fit the bill. Surely, he also had a financial incentive to bring the first Black player into a white team—it would be a moneymaker for him.
That player, the great Jackie Robinson, was chosen to withstand the insults and bigotry that Black men of the day had to constantly endure. But Robinson endured this on the baseball field with great determination and dignity.
I view “42,” which came out in 2013, as a love story between Robinson and his wife, as well as the love that Robinson had for the great pastime of baseball. He bought into the entire idea of being the guinea pig, so to speak, for the love of his race.
Nicole Beharrie played Robinson’s wife, Rachel, and Harrison Ford played the trailblazing Rickey.
I don’t pretend to know much about baseball, other than a ball is hit with a bat and there are innings, homeruns, strikeouts and walks, among other things. But I enjoyed this movie. Robinson would toy with the other teams, as he played around stealing bases and seriously hitting fly balls across the field, to cinch his legacy in baseball history. His wife watched on with joy and sadness, as she witnessed the white players’ rudeness toward her husband. But she was as strong as Robinson, as portrayed in the film.
“42” kept my interest, and I marveled at the tough skin that Robinson had to adapt, as he was ridiculed both on and off the baseball field. As a member of the Kansas City Monarchs, one of many Negro League teams, Robinson had shown great skills that would serve the Brooklyn, New York, team well. And when he finally was signed, at what seems like a million bucks at the time, the Black community rejoiced.
Boseman had numerous theater and television acting credits, as well as credits for producing and directing.
He also starred in the upcoming “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Message From The King,” a poster for which I saw during a visit to Paris in 2017, and “21 Bridges.”
His latest film, directed by Spike Lee and playing on Netflix, was “Da 5-Bloods.” In this film, four African American Vets battle the forces of man and nature when they return to Vietnam seeking the remains of their fallen squad leader and the gold fortune he helped them hide. Boseman plays the fallen soldier named Norman.
Other actors include Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and Jonathan Majors, among others.
It was kind of hard re-watching this, because Boseman dies in the film. I was hard pressed to NOT latch onto every word that he said. Boseman’s performance in this film illustrated his strength and leadership—a strength that is even more appreciated and respected, considering the circumstances.