Over the weekend we were rocked by the tragic news that Chadwick Boseman had passed following a four-year battle with colon cancer.
Boseman had kept his diagnosis hidden from the world, which in hindsight made his show stopping performances in recent years more impressive than they already were – but also made the news that bit more crippling when it reached us.
There’s always an air of invincibility that comes with our favourite actors, one that rings even truer when that actor was a superhero both on and off the screen.
The outpouring of grief goes some way in revealing the colossal impact that Boseman had, not just on cinema – but on the greater societal attitudes and issues that his performances captured so brilliantly.
Boseman played some of the most recognised and pioneering figures in black history. His portrayal of Thurgood Marshall, the Supreme Court’s first African-American justice was phenomenal, as were his takes on Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to feature in Major League Baseball and legendary soul artist, James Brown.
It was his venture into the Marvel Cinematic Universe that truly transformed the actor into a household name though, through a groundbreaking film that proved to be not only a standout point in his own career – but a monumental moment in the history of Marvel as a whole.
To make an impact on the studio like he did, one with such an established and illustrious history is a level of achievement that’s near-impossible to comprehend – and one that will be felt for decades to come.
So many of us look to great cinema for escapism. At its best, Marvel is the purest form of that. Through the years it’s given us some of the greatest and most memorable moments in film – but despite all that, for many it wasn’t until the release of Black Panther, that Marvel became relevant.
This was different than anything that had come before, it was about more than just the escapism, what this film was and what it went on to represent, ran far deeper than that. It was about inspiring a generation, celebrating black culture and opening the eyes of millions to ongoing issues of racism right across the world.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter a couple of years back, Boseman summed it up far better than we ever could: “Films can be escapism, but I don’t think this was escapism. I think this was aspirational. Some people may say, ‘Well, that country doesn’t exist, that’s not real,’ but we were pulling from all real things.
“We were pulling from the great empires, we were pulling from the hairstyles and the culture and the clothing, we were pulling from mixtures of politics that exist and we were trying to create not a perfect world, but a leader and a country that was aspirational, that gets it right.
“And so the fact that the world could look at that and draw from it during this particular time? Only God can do that, only something more powerful and more knowing than ourselves can place it in this particular time.”
We’ve also heard the stories of Boseman making sure his character retained his African accent in the movie, standing up to Marvel and insisting that it was a deal-breaker – and that it would make no sense for him to have a British or American accent as previously planned.
In an interview with CNET, he said: “If I did that, I would be conveying a white supremacist idea of what being educated is and what being royal or presidential is. Because it’s not just about him running around fighting. He’s the ruler of a nation.
“And if he’s the ruler of a nation, he has to speak to his people. He has to galvanize his people. And there’s no way I could speak to my people, who have never been conquered by Europeans, with a European voice.”
Without that unrelenting drive to stay true to this character and to what he believed in, Marvel would very likely have missed an opportunity to create something that now means so much, to so many people across the world.
While the likes of Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans are often credited with kickstarting the Marvel Universe, it’s Chadwick Boseman who deserves the plaudits for redefining its legacy, ensuring that kids who may not have seen themselves in any of these characters that had come previously, now have someone they can look up to as well.
King T’Challa, the Black Panther, symbolised so much more than just a comic book character – he signalled hope and change at a time when the world so desperately needed it. Chadwick Boseman is an immense, inspirational and noble talent lost far too soon – but his legacy will be felt by generations to come yet and for that, we’re unwaveringly grateful.