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On August 28, actor Chadwick Boseman died after a four-year battle with colon cancer. The news caught virtually the entire world by surprise, as Boseman had kept his cancer fight a secret. What he leaves behind is a relatively short career that includes an improbable number of iconic roles and films that will continue being watched long into the future.
After years of mostly small roles, Boseman burst into the spotlight with the 2013 film, 42, which saw him portray Jackie Robinson. 42 was the first time I ever remember watching Boseman, and I was immediately struck by his ability to embody Robinson’s famous humility, but also, importantly, to balance it with moments of intense frustration. Boseman followed that role up with a turn portraying James Brown in 2014’s Get On Up and his starring role as Thurgood Marshall in 2017’s Marshall.
Despite all of those potentially career-defining roles, the one Boseman will forever be remembered by is, of course, playing T’Challa, the Black Panther, in Black Panther and several other Avengers movies. In his life and death, the stories of Boseman’s commitment to the role of T’Challa was the stuff of legend. He famously balked when Disney wanted T’Challa to speak with a British or American accent, insisting he be allowed to play the character with an African accent, so as to drive home that Wakanda, its inhabitants and its ruler were never colonized. For the commitment of Boseman, director Ryan Coogler, and their collaborators, Black Panther shattered box office records, secured a Best Picture nomination and will continue to reverberate throughout Hollywood for years to come as an example of the amazing things that can happen when Black people are allowed to author their own stories.
This year, Boseman has already co-starred in Spike Lee’s Da Five Bloods on Netflix, and his final film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, is set to be released by Netflix later this year. It will surprise absolutely no one if Boseman earns an Oscar nomination, or two, or a win, or two, at next year’s Academy Awards.
But regardless, Boseman’s legacy is secure. His spectacular turns as the legends Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, James Brown and the Black Panther mean that the film contributions of Chadwick Boseman will not be forgotten anytime soon – and him an icon in his own right.
Chadwick Boseman was 43.
I’m Evan Rook.