Omair Alavi|Published September 5, 2020
You knew him as Black Panther from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Chadwick Boseman was a real-life superhero. The African American actor who donned the Black Panther costume in as many as four films, stood bravely in front of cancer, an act that would have rendered many helpless.
The actor’s death last week not just devastated his older, fans but also his wide range of younger ones who remember the 43-year-old chanting ‘Wakanda Forever’ on screen. Not many knew that despite his fame and booming career, he was privately undergoing ‘countless surgeries and chemotherapy’ to battle colon cancer, that ultimately ended his life.
Born on November 29, 1976, in South Carolina, there was more to Chadwick Boseman than you know. He was always interested in writing and directing; in fact, he wrote his first play Crossroads while in school. He studied to become a writer and a director but when he realised that there was an expressive actor in him, he switched gears to face the camera. He was at times referred to as “the next Denzel Washington” but not many know that it was the Hollywood biggie who ensured that Chadwick didn’t miss the British American Drama Academy’s Midsummer programme because of not being able to afford it. The actor narrated the story later when he was nominated to present an award to Denzel Washington, and even overwhelmed his mentor with his performance.
Before striking big first in supporting roles and later in main leads, Chadwick Boseman worked as the drama instructor in New York. It was only after he moved to Los Angeles that his luck changed and he managed to first bag some roles in TV shows, and later migrated to feature films. His journey from supporting actor to an actor who gave hope to others comprised many films. Let’s take a look at five of his iconic films which might not have had the desired effect had Chadwick Boseman not been a part of them.
42 — The True Story of an American Legend (2013)
Although baseball films aren’t that popular in Pakistan, 42 was a different experience. Not only did it pit Chadwick Boseman opposite veteran actor Harrison Ford, but his striking portrayal of baseball legend Jackie Robinson who demolished the colour line made him a noticeable addition to Hollywood. It was his first starring role for which he auditioned not once, but twice.
Director Brian Helgeland selected him from 25 candidates because he looked the part, a choice that was seconded by Rachel Robinson, the legendary player’s widow who commented that watching Boseman was like seeing Jackie again. The character was so close to Boseman that he passed away on the Jackie Robinson day.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
He may have arrived late in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa came at a time when Captain America and Iron Man were at loggerheads.
He made his debut as Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War and became an integral part of the team as the film progressed. T’Challa was introduced as the Prince of Wakanda — an African nation that belonged to the first world but posed as a third world country — and becomes the king after his father is assassinated.
Not only did his character agree to save the life of the man who was suspected of killing his onscreen father, but Chadwick Boseman also added a new dimension to the character by coming up with an accent that was nonexistent. Whether he was onscreen or off it, he used the accent and stayed in character during the course of the film. He even learned the ‘Wakandan language’ that was based on the Xhosa language, taught by John Kani, who played his father T’Chaka.
Black Panther (2018)
This was the movie that made ‘Wakanda forever’ salute become a pop culture landmark. In the first and only Black Panther solo movie of his Marvel career, Chadwick Boseman played the King of Wakanda who gains super strength by ingesting the heart-shaped herb. How he managed to stage a comeback after being dethroned, how he saves his beloved country and its technology from falling into the wrong hands is what makes Black Panther one of the best movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It is even said that in order to play a loveable leader, Chadwick Boseman observed the speeches from many South African leaders including Nelson Mandela and met many local leaders to better understand his African ancestry as well as how to carry himself with dignity.
Avengers: Infinity War & Avengers: Endgame (2018-19)
Black Panther and Wakanda were at the centre of the battle for survival between the Avengers and Thanos; the final battle took place at Wakanda before half of the Earth’s population disintegrated into thin air. Dejected and demoralised, the remaining Avengers decide to go back in time and undo Thanos’ snap, in order to bring back their lost friends.
It was only after the ‘Avengers Assembled’ and were joined by the Wakanda forces led by T’Challa that normalcy returned to the planet. Chadwick Boseman’s iconic line ‘Get this man a shield’ was one of the many moments in the Infinity War where the crowd went berserk as it not only re-introduced Captain America, but also Black Panther.
Unknown to even his co-stars in these films, Chadwick Boseman was going through a tough time in his personal life due to his illness. Yet he chose to put a brave face for his fans, his well-wishers and his co-actors who found him to be a tough guy never went for preferential treatment. He not only inspired the many African Americans who want to take up acting, writing and direction but his films, his legacy and his conduct impressed many in other parts of the world.
Chadwick Boseman leaves behind a legacy that will stay with the audience for a long time; featuring in four of the ten highest-grossing films of all times isn’t an easy task, you have to be as tough as a Black Panther to achieve that!
Published in Dawn, Young World, September 5th, 2020