Arts and Entertainment

The Iconic Life and Career of Chadwick Boseman

A summary of Chadwick Boseman’s life, career, and legacy.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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By Daniel Berlinsky

Fans all over the world were shocked to hear news of renowned film star Chadwick Boseman’s passing on the night of August 28. He was an inspiration to millions and played characters who were often black activists or icons calling for change. After a four-year-long battle, Boseman died from stage four colon cancer at age 43, which came as a shock to the general public as he hadn’t disclosed information about his illness prior to his death. Despite his abridged life, Boseman’s influence extends far beyond the roles he played. We are blessed to have experienced films, in which Boseman represents African American characters who face insurmountable challenges, and to see him handle these roles with his trademark grace and ever-present dignity. Seeing Boseman act in roles he loved and aspired to be characterizes him as a true hero to all.

Born on November 29, 1976 in Anderson, South Carolina and initially interested in art and sports, Boseman became aware of the racism present in his town during high school, after one of his basketball teammates was shot and killed. He wrote a play to honor his teammate’s memory, which sparked an interest in acting. After graduating high school, he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in directing at Howard University and attended the British American Drama Academy in Oxford, England.

From there, Boseman was able to land a few smaller roles on TV shows, including “Cold Case” (2003-2010), “ER” (1994-2009), “Law & Order” (1990-2010), and “CSI: New York” (2004-2013), but he became more publicly recognized after his feature in “The Express” (2008), the story of an African American college athlete who struggles with racism from his teammates during the Civil Rights movement. Boseman plays the minor role of a running back who takes after the main character, which is where Boseman’s passion for starring in films about Black struggle and pride began. He landed his first major role in the movie “42” (2013), a picture about baseball legend Jackie Robinson, the first African American player in the Major Leagues. Boseman’s portrayal of Robinson is stunning, perfectly delivering scenes of joy, struggle, and victory. He expertly depicts what it was like to be an African American experiencing racism and hatred, as his acting takes us deeper into the mindset and courage of the baseball player. Seeing the extent to which Robinson was booed and jeered at by opposing teams and white spectators in the baseball stadium created palpable guilt in the audience, as Chadwick held a mirror up to our undeniably similar political climate. Boseman’s portrayal of a hero who broke color barriers provided inspiration to all to be confident and proud in the work they do, even if they’re discouraged by others while doing it.

Turning away from his more traditionally dramatic roles, Boseman’s portrayal of Black Panther in the standalone film and a few other Marvel films is perhaps the commercial highlight of his career. “Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler set Boseman’s character up to be a powerful force who fights valiantly for his country and the people of Wakanda. The movie puts an emphasis on the importance of family, and Boseman’s acting makes Black Panther’s grit and determination to protect his family clear. Black Panther’s now famous “Wakanda Forever” call represents the culture and tradition of his people, giving a message to the African American population to honor their own culture. Though many may feel that the film’s fight scenes overshadow some of its deeper messages, it was clear what Boseman wanted the public to take away from the movie. His character learned to let go of the past, forgive the actions of those who came before, and have faith in himself to help not only Wakanda, but also the whole world. By doing so, the Black Panther became the best version of himself he can be and ultimately found strength in himself and his people. In his most prominent role as a Black hero, Boseman emphasized Black empowerment and gave confidence to others that they too could have an impact on the world.

Boseman decided to keep his cancer diagnosis secret from the public; he suffered for four years without letting anyone besides his family and close friends know. Part of the reason he kept it a secret was his mother Carolyn, who always told him to not let people fuss over him. Instead of having people focus on his struggle with cancer, Boseman wanted people to focus on his work and dedication to films that emphasized Black empowerment. If Boseman had let the public in on his secret, they would have been more concerned with his well-being rather than the amazing stories that Boseman told through his acting.

Looking at Boseman’s career and life overall, the passion and love he put into every project and role is more than evident. The millions of people who watched his films got to experience Boseman portraying characters that have inspired us all. “Black Panther” (2018) is currently the 11th highest-grossing film of all time, largely in part to Boseman’s superb acting and fiery charisma. He, however, will be remembered not only as an actor, but also as an activist who brought attention to stories of Black power. Through his work, Boseman wanted the world to understand the struggles of African Americans and how they overcame them, ultimately a successful and inspiring feat.