“A hero who wore no cape, but rather a suit which was the likeness of a warrior, a symbol of black resistance, and a reflection of black royalty. “
Chadwick Boseman typified the Black Panther both on-screen and in real life. The camera captured the essence of his off-camera heroics. For those who knew little about the Panther’s origin story, it started with Chadwick. I didn’t grow up a comic-book devotee.
“Black Panther” was introduced to me as a militant, political extremist, and social thought leader. When experiencing his character in a Marvel film, I remember the innocence I felt safe returning to. The innocence of a boy who grew up not having many heroes, and those whom I knew came with a unique vulnerability, reminding me that the world may never be completely safe. Discovering your heroes have weaknesses was dispiriting as a child. And holding tightly to them may never allow them to fly.
Many of us remember seeing only a few black heroes on screen when growing up. Static Shock was memorable. But his character was crafted with adolescence, making him seem unsure of the calling placed on him.
The Green Lantern’s likeness wasn’t constant enough for us to invest in the affirmation he might’ve afforded our identities. Miles Morales wasn’t popularized and put on film until recently. Cyborg and Storm were supporting characters, but rarely present or focal enough on screen to capture and fulfill our hope that someone black could save the world. Blade would be presented as more of a nighttime vigilante than the people’s luminary.
Seeing black superheroes made a movie worth watching and showed us black people could renew some of the more broken elements of everything around us. The Wakandan sign would become a trademark for black interaction, even humorously, and it was an innocent gesture we accepted as our own.
In 2016, the world was introduced to Boseman as the Black Panther in Marvel’s “Captain America- Civil War” during the epic combat scene between him and Chris Evans. The face of the man under the mask seemed more paramount than the panther suit. Even with the multiplex design and technology, with perplexing engineering stitched into it.
Black Panther has become a homonym– Political warrior, Wakandan King, and Chadwick Boseman. After the film in 2018, Boseman would be given a chimeric cape and crowned a Black American victor. Additionally, whenever history needed to be taught or painted through black art, he was there as a prop for storytelling. From characters like Jackie Robinson and James Brown to an African King who Presided over a covert nation whose technology surpassed that of the rest of the world, Boseman would readily hand himself over to the pen and imagination of black history.
His legacy is carried by more than his identity as a hero. He was successfully typecasted in black cinema and able to chronicle the life of pivotal figures in the history of black progress. He transitioned from actor to luminary through a few roles and moments, becoming a frontman in films that highlighted moments in history, and told the stories of monumental lives through art and cinematography.
Few actors are recognized for effortlessly bearing their same character on and off camera. Most notably, Don Cheadle, Denzel Washington, and Viola Davis, and those who could adroitly allow their personalities to be known in the characters they subjected themselves to.
It was through Chadwick we were deeply invested in T’Challa. Most actors have one character whom they epitomize so well that we recognize them in the same skin when the cameras go off. Spiderman and Tobey Maguire, Wolverine and Hugh Jackman, and Iron man and Robert Downey Jr.
Ryan Coogler, who debuted with one of the most poignant and pivotal films of the last decade in 2013, “Fruitvale Station,” penned a letter following Boseman’s death in 2020.
In this letter he mentioned, “I learned later that there was much conversation over how T’Challa would sound in the film. The decision to have Xhosa be the official language of Wakanda was solidified by Chad, a native of South Carolina, because he was able to learn his lines in Xhosa, there on the spot. He also advocated for his character to speak with an African accent so that he could present T’Challa to audiences as an African king, whose dialect had not been conquered by the West.” Coogler laced his last words with respect and veneration for Boseman.
In 2018, following Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “DAMN” and leading up to Jay Rock’s memorable “Redemption,” TDE curated the ambient noise for the film’s apex and least climatic moments. The soundtrack gave life to it before our curiosity invited us to the experience. “All The Stars” visual was toned with ethereal luminance, a sojourner-like essence, and an atmospheric aesthetic that was enchanting only to the black imagination.
The visual of stars and earmarks of the motherland being both golden artifacts and a desolate territory gave us an African-esque world that we looked forward to seeing on screen. Chadwick would be our frontman in this all.
2020 was a year in which death stole from us all. Chadwick’s transition was a moment none of us expected, but life had in its plans. His death meant more than the loss of the Black Panther as this symbol was not all he held in his identity, although it disrupted the timeline and structure of the film. He so innately embodied the Black Panther that years of planning and developing of the film's characters would be put on hold due to his absence.
Coogler, in his open letter, also mentioned “Chad deeply valued his privacy, and I wasn’t privy to the details of his illness. After his family released their statement, I realized that he was living with his illness the entire time I knew him. Because he was a caretaker, a leader, and a man of faith, dignity, and pride, he shielded his collaborators from his suffering. He lived a beautiful life. And he made great art.”
Chadwick Boseman’s legacy is solid enough to never be uprooted, carried away, or thrown into historical archives.
A hero who wore no cape, but rather a suit which was the likeness of a warrior, a symbol of black resistance, and a reflection of black royalty. His suit absorbed the pain, blows, and onslaught of its foes, and radiated with the damage from these strikes. Similarly, Boseman’s leaving the earth had a ripple effect that mirrored this perk. The entire world felt the blow of his death. But we, embracingly, lean into the arms of his impact. Our Black Panther. We now remember the Black Panther because of Chadwick Boseman.
Told by: Kwon