If the walls of my social media timelines could make sounds, at about 10 pm on Friday, August 28, 2020, it would have been wailing. No one was prepared to hear or accept the news of Chadwick Boseman’s passing at the age of 43.
Born in South Carolina, Boseman studied acting at Howard University, graduating in 2000. He returned to his alma mater in 2018 to give the commencement speech that is still remembered for how empowering it was. In a statement from Howard University President Wayne AI Frederick “It was Boseman’s desire to see the students of Howard achieve greatness. Together, he and I shared many conversations preparing plans for a project that would bring him back to campus, which was very close to being ready to announce. Although now he will not be here to witness the harvest of the seeds he planted, we will continue to water and cultivate them in his memory.”
He started his professional acting career in 2003 on All My Children, in a role that eventually went to his Black Panther co-star Michael B. Jordan. Through the early 2000s made appearances on varying television shows including, ER, Cold Case, Persons Unknown, Detroit 187, and Justified.
We all came to know him in the 2013 film 42, in which he played the legendary Jackie Robinson, and his career seemed to take off from here. His roles celebrated black icons, James Brown in Get on Up and Thurgood Marshall in Marshall. Then Boseman brought the most iconic role for African Americans in this century to screen: Black Panther. He made his first appearance in Captain America: Civil War, before headlining the 2018 blockbuster named for the iconic character.
Boseman was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016, which puts his character choices in a different light. My friend, Dr. Rebecca Dupas, posted this morning “…Chadwick knew his battles when we didn’t and he decided to live every day, especially those after his diagnosis, with intent. In the four years that he battled colon cancer, he said yes to roles that centered Blackness. He elevated us in a field that often creates entire universes where we don’t exist.”
Boseman was last seen in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods and has two more projects currently in post-production. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom premiering on Netflix later this year and What IF…? on Disney + slated to air in 2021. From reading his IMDB page, he must have believed he had more time as there were three projects listed in pre-production, including Black Panther 2.
The PCU team was still in shock when the news broke last night.
Paul: Besides his role in the MCU, I loved him in 42. I’m not one to be affected when a celeb passes, but this has me really sad.
Belle: He was very much an actor’s actor if that makes sense? He was fantastic in Black Panther because he was surrounded by so many other people who were also amazing, and he didn’t have to carry it all on his back. As James Brown or Thurgood Marshall (especially Thurgood), he was wildly miscast and had to carry the weight of these 2 icons on his back, and it wasn’t meant for him. However, knowing how little time he had, maybe he felt like he had to get those stories out there with the power he had. The fact that he was going through chemo and surgeries while being in these films and all the physical demands of playing T’Challa is amazing.
Paul: I thought he was wonderful as Jackie Robinson.
Belle: Yes, that is 100% fact. I adored him as Jackie Robinson, he was perfect for that part. In light of all of this it also makes all his work with St. Jude’s even more inspiring.
Jonathan: I am just so completely in shock. I can’t wrap my head around this. It’s all too much. He was such an important voice. He seemed so steady, such a decent man.
Belle: He was just so kind and sweet and so profoundly decent and I cannot get over that he’s gone. This is hitting me like Naya Rivera’s death did and for the same reasons: they were getting better with each part. We were only just beginning to see what they were capable of and now they’re just gone.
Brook: This one hits hard. On top of his importance (and high point) in the MCU, he was a brilliant actor still in his prime, from 42 to Da 5 Bloods.
Doug: This hurts. He was my age, and he did so much good for so many people. His work with St. Jude changed so many lives…
Belle: That he died on Jackie Robinson Day and Jack Kirby‘s birthday makes it even worse somehow…
I missed last night’s discussion, so I’ll put all my thoughts here.
My social media feeds are full of Howard Alumni and artists of all genres and the heartbreak is palpable. There are tributes to Boseman’s acting career, remembrances of him as a person, his humility, and how he knew how much the characters he brought to screen meant to everyone.
Writing this piece today is difficult. To lose such a good actor at the prime of their career, someone who you knew had so much ahead of him, just hurts. He made us feel like he was apart of our family. I enjoyed watching him share his love of being Black Panther with his fans, and I will mourn for the movies he will not be apart of in the future.
In closing I again quote Dr. Dupas, “He was so purposeful in building his legacy that I am confused in my own emotion, lost somewhere between fullness and grief. I was eager to see what he’d do next. I wanted him to be an old man giving young actors a run for their money as he most certainly would have. I hadn’t begun to imagine how his future roles might inspire the next generation. Death had me forgetting that he is certainly immortal. As others have so eloquently stated, he’s already lived his life selflessly and with purpose. We cannot discount the amazing Black experience he so beautifully crafted for us. He lived. He gave. His 43 years here have overwhelmingly lifted us. I am sad but extremely grateful.“
Chadwick Boseman will be missed.
For information on making a donation to St. Jude in the memory of Chadwick Boseman (or a loved one of yours), see their official donation web page.