Chadwick Boseman passed away at 43 on August 28, 2020, surrounded by his wife and family. Only after his death did the world learn the actor had been fighting colon cancer for four years. While Boseman was playing King T’Challa in 2018’s Black Panther, he was fighting for his life.
Simultaneously, Boseman was fighting to ensure African culture was represented correctly in the first Marvel film centering on a black superhero. T’Challa would become one of the greatest superheroes ever.
Boseman insisted on using an African accent in Black Panther. When Marvel suggested his accent might be “too much,” Boseman insisted switching to a British accent would be “like a deal-breaker.” He wanted the fictional kingdom of Wakanda to be free from any references to colonialism.
His longtime agent, Michael Greene, revealed that Boseman would not budge on the matter because he was committed to using an African man’s voice and dialect.
“I will only do this with an African accent,” Boseman said. “They were like, ‘Well, no, we want it to be South African.'”
Boseman replied, “I’m a king of Africa. I’m going with the customs that we fought and fought and fought for,” said Boseman.
The actor’s commitment to speaking with an African accent in the film inspired director Ryan Coogler to make Black Panther. According to the Washington Post, Coogler decided to sign on after watching Boseman in an unfinished cut of Captain America: Civil War. Boseman learned Xhosa for the film with the South African actor, who portrayed his father, John Kani.
Likewise, Boseman fought to keep the movie’s waterfall scene, saying:
“This is historical, and the people need to be dancing with African music.”
Furthermore, Greene revealed that when Boseman was offered a branding opportunity for the film, the actor turned it down, saying:
“I can’t, because how can I show young Black kids and kids of color that they can be superheroes, [then do this]?”
Today after his untimely passing, kids across the country are paying tribute to Boseman. In St. Louis, 7-year-old Kian Westbrook created a tribute of Marvel action figures in his driveway to “send off their fallen comrade.”
Making the “Wakanda forever” gesture, Westbrook said, King T’Challa taught him, “Black kids can be heroes, too.”
"Black kids can be heroes too": A 7-year-old's moving tribute to Chadwick Boseman goes viral https://t.co/4llraBn7Qk— CBS News (@CBSNews) September 2, 2020
Boseman loved seeing the blockbuster Black Panther impact the world precisely when it did. So much so, he believed it was meant to be. In 2018, he told the Hollywood Reporter:
“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.”
Chadwick Boseman had an extraordinary impact in his short life, and yes, it does seem divinely inspired. As his agent said, for Boseman, “It was always about bringing light.”
“… That’s why we never did really dark movies or movies that were just people shooting everybody and perpetuating darkness. He accomplished so much, and all while he was fighting the darkness, literally. Until the last couple of days of his life, he was fighting it,” recalls Greene.
Undoubtedly, the world was blessed with Chadwick Boseman at just the right time. Wakanda is indeed forever, and Boseman’s mark on a world struggling for black rights is profound.
Now, here are some of Boseman’s’ inspirations quotes that are also forever.
According to THR, Kevin Feige was not aware of Chadwick Boseman’s cancer diagnosis until after he passed away. Chadwick “was convinced until about a week before his death that he was going to beat cancer and would be able to gain the weight back for a Black Panther sequel.” pic.twitter.com/xm3qIgu7m3— Film Updates Back-Up (@TheFilmUpdates) September 2, 2020
On the Value of Equal Education for Women
On Internation Women’s’ Day, March 8, 2020, Boseman shared an inspirational African proverb on Twitter: “If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a family (nation).”
One of the actor’s last Tweets, he introduced the African proverb with the following, emphasizing his belief in creating parity in the world.
“Education is a gateway to broadening perceptions, fighting stereotypes, and creating parity in this world. Celebrating all of the women who have made an indelible impact on my life on International Women’s Day and every day.”
Education is a gateway to broadening perceptions, fighting stereotypes, and creating parity in this world. Celebrating all of the women who have made an indelible impact on my life on #InternationalWomensDay and everyday. #EachforEqual #IWD2020 pic.twitter.com/PFDwX5Ippl— Chadwick Boseman (@chadwickboseman) March 8, 2020
On Facing Struggles
During his filming 2019’s 21 Bridges, Boseman portrays an embattled NYPD detective who joins a Manhattan search for two cop killers. In an effort to contain the killers, authorities close all 21 Manhattan bridges.
Taking questions on Twitter, Boseman opened up about his experience filming the movie, which proved difficult because of snowstorms and filming at night. However, the actor says:
“That’s why you enjoy the finished product so much because of those struggles.” As a wise actor told him, “You get what you bring to it.”
As usual, Boseman was laser-focused on making sure he accurately portrayed his role with all its details, verbal and nonverbal.
“I think every day has its own challenges that you have to face. Cause if it’s easy, it probably ain’t right,” said Boseman.
On Taking the Harder Way to Find ‘Our Time’
Boseman delivered an inspirational speech for the graduates of Howard University, his Alma mater, in 2018. Boseman was profound, affirming that every person takes a meaningful path and that our struggles help us find our purpose.
“Your purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose,” said Boseman.
Going further, he said that the harder road is not something to regret.
“I don’t know what your future is, but if you’re willing to take the harder way, the more complicated one, the one with more failures at first than successes…then you will not regret it,” said Boseman. “Now, this is your time,” he said to roaring applause.
On Life as a Starving Artist
At age 35, Boseman exploded on the Hollywood scene after portraying Jackie Robinson in the baseball biopic 42, followed by getting the starring role as James Brown in Get On Up.
However, he had intended to be a writer and director, not an actor. Thus, he wrote plays in a Brooklyn apartment for ten years before his acting career.
In a GQ interview, he reflected on what he called the most stressful time in his life.
“I think the most stressful time of my life was when I was in New York, and I didn’t have money to pay my rent. I was going to the mailbox every day waiting for the check to come. When you don’t have money, when you’ve got, like, a jar full of change and each day, it’s “Okay, I’ve got enough to get on the train” and “Maybe that check’s gonna come today…”
“There’s nothing more stressful than your stomach growling. But interestingly enough, some of my best writing came when I was poor and hungry—living off water and oatmeal, mind clear.”
On Not Getting an Oscar or Golden Globe Nod
In 2015, Boseman was not mentioned in the year’s awards conversation, although he had played James Brown in Get on Up. However, he was unphased and looked forward to his upcoming role as T’Challa in Black Panther.
“When it comes down to it, I’d rather have an action figure than a Golden Globe,” said Boseman.
Today, those action figures are touching people’s lives all over the world. Even better, Black Panther became one of the highest-grossing films of all time and was nominated for the best picture Oscar.
On Our Need to Love People
When Boseman died, the news shocked the world that had no idea about the health struggles he faced. For singer Janelle Monáe, the news was so upsetting she took to Twitter, writing, “Cancel everything. My Goddddddddd.”
The next day, she shared Boseman’s quote about the need to love others.
“I think you realize how much you need to have people that you love. It’s not as much about them loving you — it’s about you needing to love people.”
Followed by his quote, Monáe wrote:
“I can’t stop crying,” the singer said. “I am also inspired. Outside of your incredible artistic contributions. You did the hardest work, THE HEART WORK humbly & selflessly. And for that, you and your light will never expire.”
On His Experience with Children with Terminal Cancer
In 2018, Boseman took part in a Sirius XM interview, discussing his interactions with two terminally ill children during the production of Black Panther. The actor who was quietly battling cancer himself was humbled to know these kids wanted to hold on to their lives long enough to see the movie.
“It’s a humbling experience because you think, ‘This can’t mean that much to them. But seeing how the world has taken this on, seeing the movement and how it’s taken on a life of its own, I realized they anticipated something great.”
Further reflecting, he said:
“I did live life waiting for those moments, and so it put me back into the experience of being a little kid, just to experience those two little boys’ anticipation of this movie.”
The moment was one that touched the actor and made him realize he had fulfilled a greater purpose in many lives. We know this amazing young man will continue to have a profound impact on our lives forever.
See more in Marvel Entertainment’s tribute to Chadwick Boseman below:
Featured image: Chadwick Boseman, by Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia Commons CC 2.0