By R.L. Witter
Last Friday evening I let out a gasp that made my husband take notice. “What is it?” he asked as I sat paralyzed on our couch. I was unable to move or speak, so I just remained seated with my phone in my hand as a tear rolled down my face. Hubby moved closer, put his arm around me, and took my phone from my hand. As he looked at the screen he also gasped. His eyes grew wide then began to fill with tears. He put down the phone and added his second arm for a full-on hug. We comforted each other as my shoulders heaved and he asked in a whisper, “Why? How?”
We had just been informed Chadwick Boseman had died. It didn’t make sense. He was a few years younger than we are and he was in fantastic shape for all of his movies, especially the ones where he played T’Challa/Black Panther. Yes, he looked a bit thin in Da 5 Bloods, but his weight loss was for a part, right? Sadly, wrong.
Unbeknownst to most, Boseman was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016. While he was wowing audiences with his portrayal of Thurgood Marshall in Marshall, and bringing to life the world of Wakanda that would inspire Black people around the world, he was quietly, stoically undergoing surgeries and treatments to prolong his short life. He was suffering in silence.
There was something familiar and relatable about Chadwick Boseman. He came across as someone I met once at a party or perhaps at a jazz festival. We both attended Howard University (several years apart), so maybe our paths had crossed there? No, not likely. Besides, Hubby felt the same sense of familiarity with the gifted actor and he didn’t attend HU. Could it have been Boseman’s humble swagger? He had a way of gliding on screen and filling the scene with an abundance of talent.
We know it wasn’t easy, especially while battling cancer. But he just made it look effortless as he portrayed various iconic characters. His acting style was what I would call unassuming or subtle. He seemingly melted into a part to where Chadwick Boseman disappeared and only his embodiment of the character remained.
I recall seeing him in 42 and later Get on Up. Shortly thereafter there were rumblings about him fearing being typecast and wanting to take on a role not depicting a historical figure. I next saw him as the only good and redeeming thing in Gods of Egypt, and thought, “I know he wants to do something different but maybe fantasy isn’t it for him.” I’ve never been happier to be so wrong.
When T’Challa appeared in the U.N. scene in Captain America: Civil War, I got goosebumps. The suit, the accent — Boseman was doing something special here. When Black Panther exploded onto the screen a few minutes later, I squealed! Having older brothers, I am well-versed in comic books and Black Panther was my oldest brother’s FAVORITE. Boseman was able to leverage his own humble swagger and transform it into the rare air of the royalty of a king and the bravado of a superhero.
After seeing Marshall, Hubby remarked it should be a franchise with multiple movies about cases Thurgood Marshall won as an attorney and presided over as a judge and Supreme Court justice. It sounded like a good idea to me. When Black Panther was released the following year, we donned our African attire for opening weekend and were nothing short of blown away! The scenery, the fashion, the technology, the storyline, and the casting were all superior to anything we had ever seen in a superhero movie and Boseman’s performance — phenomenal! My nephew didn’t have much of choice that year regarding birthday and Christmas presents; he was getting Black Panther Lego and paraphernalia so Hubby and I could enjoy them, too.
We saw all of the Marvel movies in which Boseman appeared as well as his last two projects, 21 Bridges and Da 5 Bloods. The gritty realness of the former made for a tense crime drama and the comradery of the latter touched Hubby, a U.S. Army veteran, deeply. We look forward to his final performance, the as yet unreleased Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
As we remember Chadwick Boseman for his brilliant talent, we should also take note of the fact he was able to keep his cancer diagnosis a secret for four years while being one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. That speaks volumes about his character and strength. He was quoted as saying, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything You gave me.’” Chadwick Boseman’s time and talent were cut short but what he accomplished and the legacy he left us will live on in every child who aspires to the Major League because they saw him play Jackie Robinson in 42, the head bops and finger snaps of every person who sees Get on Up, the smile and wonder of every Black child who wants to be a superhero and make Wakanda a reality, and the determination of every person who is inspired to practice law by his portrayal of Thurgood Marshall.
Rest well, Brother Boseman. You were loved and you will be missed, but never forgotten.