Chadwick Boseman was more than just a movie star.
We need to only look to the outpouring of grief over his untimely death to know that the “Black Panther” star was influential beyond the screen.
Portraying T’Challa, one of the world’s most beloved Black superheroes, Boseman helped break box office records. But he also came to embody something that people are just now starting to wrap their minds and hearts around in the aftermath of his death.
As I expected, there was some pushback on social media against a piece I wrote about what Boseman meant to the Black community — an “all Marvel fan lives matter” reaction, if you will.
And while I was in no way trying to negate the universality of admiration for the actor, there can be no denying the symbolism and importance of Boseman and “Black Panther” to African Americans in particular.
The complaints did get me thinking of what the loss of Boseman means to the world more broadly, and there are indeed several lessons we can take from his life to honor his legacy.
Perseverance: There was shock all around to discover that Boseman privately battled colon cancer for four years.
He played T’Challa/Black Panther in more than one Marvel film during his illness, and now knowing that he was sick, it’s almost incomprehensible when you look at the physicality of that role alone — and yethe also starred in other films in that time frame.
Boseman’s personal trainer, Addison Henderson, told Men’s Journal in 2018 that his client spent a year in constant training for the films.
“We rarely stopped moving during our sessions,” Henderson said of Boseman, who had a background in martial arts. “We trained like we were going into the fight of our lives.”
Humility: Boseman kept his diagnosis largely private, focusing on work and shining a light on others.He visited young cancer patients in the hospital, even as he battled his own disease.
Boseman in 2018 broke down during an interview he and some of his fellow cast members did for SiriusXM as he told the story of two little boys who were terminally ill and whose parents told him they were trying to hold on for the release of “Black Panther.”
The actor got emotional talking about the boys, who had passed away, and the importance of the film to the Black community because of the representation.
“It means a lot,” he said through his tears.”Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler penned a beautiful tribute to his star and said even he was unaware that Boseman was ill.
“Because he was a caretaker, a leader, and a man of faith, dignity and pride, he shielded his collaborators from his suffering,” Coogler wrote. “He lived a beautiful life. And he made great art.”
Passion: Boseman played myriad historical figures including Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and Thurgood Marshall, and he gave his all to each and every role.
None more so than his “Black Panther” role, the weight of which he knew would be heavy given what it would mean to fans.
The actor advocated for T’Challa to speak with an African accent in “Black Panther,” Coogler wrote, and Boseman explained to Trevor Noah (who is South African) in an interview promoting the film why this move was so important.
“I knew that an African accent could carry all of that passion in the English language just as well as a British one could if not better,” Boseman said.
Love: It’s a word that has come up frequently from those who knew the actor best.
Boseman clearly loved his art, those closest to him and his fans.
Watching him surprise some of those fans on an episode of “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” from two years ago feels both devastating and healing.
Because Boseman got to hear firsthand what his work meant to people, you could see what that meant to him.
Love is why we grieve so intensely for a star who burned for such a short period of time, but was the brightest.
In paying tribute on Instagram, Angela Bassett, who played his mother in “Black Panther,” recalled receiving an honorary degree from Howard University in Washington, DC, years ago and Boseman, then a student, was assigned to escort her on campus.
Everything about Boseman seems to come back to him being of service — to Bassett and to us — via his talent and his grace. So as she wrote in her tribute, I choose to believe “thou aren’t not dead but flown afar,” Mr. Boseman. We appreciate all you left us with before you took that trip.