A Great Panther, A Greater King
Chadwick Boseman was an actor who opened the world of the superhero up to many who have forever felt shut out - we honour his legacy.
AUGUST 29th, 2020
ou're a good man with a good heart. And it's hard for a good man to be king.”
There are many quotes from Black Panther, each one eloquently possessing the fortitude and strength of a superhero, adorned with immense expectation and pressure to lead his kingdom and tribe. Yet, as the devastating news broke over the death of actor Chadwick Boseman this simple citation blazed into my mind – for he proved it to be right.
Across an impressive career Chadwick Boseman redefined what it meant to be a hero, not only through his values, character and convictions – but by the colour of his skin. Through his role as King T’Challa, Boseman invited a generation of people, who had lacked any representation, into the world of the superhero in which they could finally see themselves.
That representation wasn’t grounded in the aesthetic or cultural significance of Black Panther’s presence but embedded within the construct of the character Chadwick had created. He proved that bravery has no colour, courage has no racial limits and exemplary talent is visible in every one of us, even when the world is designed to make some of us invisible.
What none of us knew was that Chadwick’s bravery stemmed beyond the screen, away from the world of Wakanda. He was battling stage 3 cancer of the colon. Through four years of treatment, intrusive and invasive surgeries, he never let up. Remarkably, whilst battling his illness, he completed numerous films including Da 5 Bloods, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame and most recently had just completed one last performance in August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. He worked without complaint, or any attention being brought to his personal struggle. His dignified and fearless fight was one away from the cameras or public, which is what makes his passing so unbelievably heart-breaking.
He once stated: “The number-one rule of acting is, ‘Do not seek approval from the audience.’ People don’t realise that. You can’t do stuff to get applause. You have to live in the truth.” It is a mantra his career was defined by, so was his activism and his uplifting presence within and outside the African American community.
He never failed to acknowledge the pressure upon his shoulders on taking the role of T’Challa. Perhaps, more than most, he understood the value of the role, the feelings it would incite from his own community – acceptance. Chadwick Boseman touched places and people many other heroes have failed to, not solely for who he represents, but his authenticity when embodying the cultures surrounding them. From the far reaches of Africa, to the young black boy and girl seeing the Black Panther on screen fighting, overcoming and triumphing like any other hero, he proved that anyone from anywhere can hold and thrive within the sacred space of the silver screen.
At the age of 42, we have lost him, and that loss will be felt keenly as the years go on. There will be many who will look at sanctifying his work and sheer presence upon the film industry. What a career he gave us, what wonders he could have continued to bestow upon us all. Many will claim he opened the doors to the world of superheroes for those of colour. I disagree. He tore them down. He was good man, with a good heart and an even greater skill – the ability to include us all in his magic.
Through Chadwick Boseman’s short life, he proved King T’Chaka right – its hard for a good man to be king, but a king he will forever be.
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