Sunday, August 30, 2020

Salute to a King - Chadwick Boseman (1976 - 2020)

photo by Neil Krug

Very few stars in Hollywood shine so brightly. After a handful of roles under his belt, Chadwick Boseman accomplished more in his massive skyrocket to fame than many are ever able to. It's only fitting that Esquire once declared, "Chadwick is telling America's greatest stories." But how these stories were told is just as illuminating and important as Chadwick being the chosen one to tell them.

With three historical figures under his belt - Jackie Robinson in 42, James Brown in Get On Up, and civil rights activist Thurgood Marshall in Marshall - Boseman never played these influential figures as self-aware legends. Approaching them with a deliberate focus to live and breathe on screen as they were, he slipped into every role rarely carrying any evidence of the weight his portrayal would conjure. Instead of these stories hiding in the shadows, he was apart of bringing them to light - an assured and conflicting patience as first African American to play in Major League Baseball, that's completely uprooted with the electrifying energy of Brown, and then the tactical poise of Marshall. Only a true actor could achieve the transition between each role and not make you second-guess their innate vulnerability and courage.

Though Boseman's roles outside of Marvel are just as important and delivered a hopeful promise of where his career could soar, his role as T'Challa changed something - for Black culture, for the film industry, for fans.

It was only a few years ago that the original Avengers' arcs were coming to an end. The expiration date for the initial cast's contracts loomed and newer faces were stepping up to the plate. As their time started to come to a close, the next phase needed to be revived in order to keep the momentum going. I love Cap, as you all know, but my time with Marvel was coming down to who else was going to move the next phase along - who was going to infuse it with a new energy and direction. After 20/21 movies, Marvel finally decided to adapt Black Panther, and that changed the game. 

While most of Captain America: Civil War focuses on the beef between Tony Stark and Captain America, it also starts drawing out the newer Avengers for their own spin-offs- Peter Parker, Vision, Wanda Maximoff, Scott Lang, and T'Challa. Not only was T'Challa a glimmering transition into a Post-Avengers world, but mainly, it was Boseman as T'Challa who changed everything. Less than a minute together - T'Challa greets his father King T'Chaka (John Kani) at the United Nations signing of The Accords before Zemo attacks, leaving his father dead. Their love and respect bound together in such a heartbreaking, beautiful greeting and loss that sets their whole story motion for his own film. As The Avengers quarrel over the Accords, it's T'Challa's release of vengeance against Zemo for killing his father that is the pivotal moment of a solid character arc. Whether he was obscured by Black Panther costume or not, the layers of emotions he conveyed both in the grief of losing his father and in releasing his grudge was unmatched, and I was hooked.

I had at least a two-hour conversation with Denzel after he saw the movie,” Boseman recalls. “He saw all of us onscreen and it was like, ‘Yes, finally! This is what I’ve been working for. ’. . . When you see someone in his position—a star, a leader—don’t take it for granted that they’re struggling against the system to hold that position in order to express things a certain way without compromise. Think about the things they’ve turned down in order to be that person.(x)

T'Challa was a royal prince, but Chadwick approached him with the charisma, empathy, and determination that exuded an quiet strength - a universal character you could relate to no matter where you come from. It's Boseman's turn as the character that marked memorable moments for me in half the time of all The Avengers movies - his premiere in Captain America: Civil War; the scope of Black Panther to weave stories of African diaspora, colonialism, and white supremacy inspires me to be a better anti-racist activist; the fight against Thanos in Wakanda made me so nervous in the theaters the first time I saw it and his death in The Snap makes me cry just thinking about Okoye's reaction when he vanishes; seeing his return leading the charge of the new Avengers in Endgame and celebrating The Blip offered so much hope for his sequel. 

Black Panther, the film itself and the character, wasn't just a Marvel reset, but a cultural one that won't be repeated again - a billion dollars at the box office with a Black led cast and crew and an opportunity for generations to witness their first Black superhero. From his own childhood admiration of T'Challa to telling nods from the universe that Marvel would tap him to cast, it seemed like Chadwick was destined to change the world. None of the detail or layers of T'Challa's arc - everything from how he talked to building Wakanda from the ground up wouldn't be possible without the dedication and the attention to detail director Ryan Coogler with the crew, but also for the lead to set the tone for what Black Panther could be. Marvel might've reached out to him to play T'Challa, but similar to all of his roles, Boseman made it his own.

Ironically, Boseman didn't start as an actor - he instead wanted to be a director and was encouraged to try acting to understand the whole film-making process. After picking up tidbit roles before landing 42, it's strange to wonder what film would've been like without him in front of the camera. His impact is evident in the projects he chose that elevate Black actors and characters to be more than stereotypes - picking up the mantle from Sydney Poitier to Denzel Washington to Viola Davis, and running with it in every direction he could. That's a symbol of power that just can't be compared.

To say, Boseman will be missed feels like a vast understatement giving how his influence and presence is immeasurable. To say, I know how to comprehend his passing is something I don't. I don't know if many will fully know how to digest the news until 2020 is well in our rear-view mirror. It feels greedy to think of the roles he had yet to fulfill and the impact he had yet to achieve because he had already achieved so much - all the while facing his own battles with colon cancer that remained private with his family until his passing. He wasn't just a chameleon with so many roles left to give, but someone who was working behind the scenes to live up to the legacy of a superhero by visiting patients in hospitals and maintaining friendships with children who will and looked up to Black Panther. The incredible strength and grace he emanated off-screen and in his work leaves questions as much as it does inspiration. He soaked up every second with the time that he had, and what he delivered is a rare spark of true human royalty and grace.

Rest in peace and power, King.

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