Chadwick Boseman’s death initially stopped me, as it probably did many others. His passing, although not sudden to those around him as he had been battling Stage III (later Stage IV) colon cancer since 2016, was still nothing short of shocking, as his illness had not been made public knowledge whatsoever. Chadwick Boseman’s illness was something he refused to reveal to anyone else other than those closest to him, a secret arduous to bear, especially as more people began to notice his weight loss and weariness in recent photographs; indeed, it claimed him after only four years. But what an incredible four years those were.
He embodied the ultimate selflessness: Brushing aside an unspeakably horrible diagnosis to bring happiness and representation to millions, never allowing anyone to feel pity for him. He showed the world the power behind being Black, contributing to the growth of Afrofuturism. When Black Panther was released, many people saw for the first time a superhero who did not match the same attributes as those so often depicted on-screen previously; not only did Boseman embody this beauty hitherto unseen through his acting and poise, he provided enough atmosphere and authenticity to bring to life an amazing person as well as a superhero.
That inimitable acting presence compounds the shock of his death even more, as during this time he effortlessly portrayed Thurgood Marshall in the eponymous film, King T’Challa in the groundbreaking Black Panther and the gifted Vietnam War soldier Stormin’ Norman in Da 5 Bloods, released only this past June. All three of those films, as well as others, were made after he had been diagnosed with cancer, but throughout each performance, he carried with him such a grounding presence that transcended any sort of possible frailty or ailment, enduring and inspiring in its steadiness no matter how different each character may have been from the others. After Norman and the others find out from a radio broadcast that Martin Luther King, Jr. has been assassinated early on during Da 5 Bloods, Norman talks down the rest of the furious members of his five-person company even as he himself is devastated at the news; he proclaims at the end of the scene: “Won’t let nobody control our rage. We control our rage.” Boseman channeled this earnest, unflagging strength every time he appeared on screen, and it honestly hits even harder to find out he did so while facing such a grim prognosis — but such is the way of the best among us.
Soon after the news of his passing surfaced, Black Panther director Ryan Coogler honored Boseman in the most profound manner: “In African cultures we often refer to loved ones that have passed on as ancestors… I think it was because from the time that I met him, the ancestors spoke through him. It’s no secret to me now how he was able to skillfully portray some of our most notable ones. I had no doubt that he would live on and continue to bless us with more. But it is with a heavy heart and a sense of deep gratitude to have ever been in his presence, that I have to reckon with the fact that Chad is an ancestor now. And I know that he will watch over us, until we meet again.”
John Colie is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org