Last month, both Hollywood and the world suffered a shocking and devastating loss, as Chadwick Boseman passed away after a four-year-long secret battle with cancer. An outpouring of love and support have been seen from around the world towards Boseman and his family, showing testament to just how treasured and significant the actor was, both on and off the screen. As we look back over the life and career of one of the big screen’s most iconic actors of the last decade, we see why Chadwick Boseman’s legacy will live on for so long in the minds and hearts of all those he inspired. Born and raised in South Carolina within a moderate household, Boseman’s passion for the arts began outside of the spotlight, as he wrote and directed plays at school, subsequently going on to graduate from Howard University with a Bachelor of Arts in Directing. Through funding from one of his university teacher’s friends, including Denzel Washington, he and his classmates were able to attend the Oxford Mid-Summer Program of the British American Drama Academy in London. After studying acting to help his directorial pursuits, he eventually shifted his focus towards the craft, leading him on the path to the great roles that he came to be known for.
While directing a play in New York and considering giving up acting entirely to pursue an offstage career, he landed his first lead role as the baseball star Jackie Robinson in 42. His powerful and pragmatic acting style was clear to all straight away, with Robinson’s widow noting that his portrayal of the athlete “was like seeing him again”. He then went on to star as another black icon, James Brown in Get on Up, bringing all of Brown’s energy and charisma to the screen with his own dancing and singing. His work, most notably in 42, landed him his quintessential role as King T’Challa across four of Marvel’s films. It was of course his portrayal of the comic book icon in Black Panther in 2018 which brought him the most acclaim. The film grossed over $1.3 billion worldwide, breaking numerous other records including highest grossing film by a black director. With seven academy nominations and a further three wins, Black Panther remains a ground-breaking step forward for black creatives in the arts industries, with its unprecedented success paving the way for new opportunities for so many who have always been underrepresented and unheard. Of course, without the charm and talent that Boseman brough to the leading role, it is unknown if the film would have had the same prosperity.
As well as his talent on the screen, Boseman brought all of his charisma with him in his everyday life. Not only is this clear in his perseverance and strength to carry on his acting career throughout fighting an illness that one can only imagine the pain of, but also in his outspokenness towards injustices and causes he felt so strongly for. Through his speeches at award ceremonies, most notably that at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in 2019, Boseman highlighted issues within his industry, using these times not to discuss himself, but to discuss his community. In the aforementioned speech, Boseman repeats the phrase “to be young, gifted and black”, discussing the endless hurdles and obstacles that must be overcome by those in Hollywood simply because of the colour of their skin. His empowering speech at Howard University’s 150th graduation ceremony further highlighted his incredible skills as an orator, speaking honestly about the unavoidable systemic discrimination that the students would go on to face in the working world. “Sometimes you need to get knocked down before you really know what your fight is”; these words only resonate more gravely in retrospect, given the private battle Boseman was facing alongside the various trials and tribulations he faced throughout his career as a black artist.
As a peer, he was cherished and admired by all who knew him. “He was a historical figure as the Black Panther, but also such a good and decent human being”, says co-star Mark Ruffalo. “The way he handled his life and battle with cancer with such humility and grace and dignity let’s us all know that he truly was a superhero”, says Oprah Winfrey. The unparalleled likeability Boseman oozed in all that he did, be it on the screen or in any given public appearance makes it clear that he is a man who could do no wrong. Even in his final few months in an Instagram Live video, he was still speaking out against the racial injustices existing in America, namely that of the disproportionate effect of coronavirus on ethnic minority communities. The life and work of Chadwick Boseman was truly incredible, and cut tragically short, and it will be a while until we can truly see the full impact that his legacy will have on the world. As Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige aptly states: “Chadwick’s legacy is almost too big to comprehend yet”, but it will undoubtedly stand the test of time. Rest in power to the king of Wakanda.
Image Credit: NBC News