My childhood heroes growing up included Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, James Brown, and even T'Challa from the Black Panther comic book. Looking back now, it's no surprise that actor Chadwick Boseman, who died Aug. 28 at 43 from colon cancer, played all of these characters in films.
I cried about Boseman's death, the same way I wept about Kobe Bryant earlier this year. When I see Black men die young, I seek the similarities. Boseman was born in Anderson, South Carolina, something I highlighted with a Free Times cover story, “Black Heroes Matter,” a few years back.
Having a talent like this comes from your state inspires beyond words — a Black man making art that speaks to Black people representing a place that doesn't have breakout celebrities.
Questions about Boseman’s condition arose last year when photos showed a thinner, more frail man. Nothing like the build of the shirtless King T'Challa in 2018's Black Panther. I immediately brushed off the concern, assuming this guy was getting ready for a role the way Christian Bale dropped more than 60 pounds for The Machinist.
Little did I know that he had cancer for four years. Four years that included him filming at least Black Panther,' Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, 21 Bridges, Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods (released in June) and the forthcoming Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. All the while, he quietly went through multiple surgeries and chemotherapy.
It makes one particular exchange from a 2017 interview with HuffPost writer Matt Jacobs suddenly heartbreaking.
Jacobs brought up the fact that Boseman went through extreme weight changes between Black Panther and Marshall, concluding by saying, “You've been through the wringer.”
“Oh, you don't even know,” Bosemen laughed. “You have no idea. One day I'll live to tell the story.”
Boseman suffered in silence without the public being unaware of his condition. In a way, it's commendable that Boseman's circle was able to keep his business private, but I can't help but wonder if he maintained his rigorous work schedule because he didn't know if he had much time.
I feel sick at the idea that Boseman was silent about his illness. Was it because of us? Did he think that it would get in the way of his great work? I do know that we can collectively smile because everyone gave him his flowers while he was here.
Seeing Black Panther in the theater several times when it came out in 2018 was one of the most remarkable film experiences I've ever had. Just as remarkable, it was a film with a Black director, many prominent Black crew members and a majority Black cast, and it generated $1.34 billion worldwide, with a 2018-leading domestic haul of $700 million that bested even Avengers: Infinity War.
Black Panther is a feat that proved Hollywood wrong, showing that a Black film of such magnitude could succeed. I have pride in my heart that a Black man from South Carolina was the face of that. I remember seeing young Black children throw “Wakanda forever” greetings, smile while wearing African garments, and show interest in the continent in a way that radiated pride in the history of people who look like them. I remember telling a friend that I wished I had this movie when I was growing up.
Boseman was perfect in his roles playing iconic Black figures because he was one himself. It never seemed as if the moment was too much for him, as he exuded a humanity that wasn't acting, it was him.
In a SiriusXM interview with the cast of Black Panther, Boseman talked about two young boys, Ian and Taylor, that were suffering from cancer. Boseman said, “I was communicating with them, knowing that they were both terminal. And they said to me and their parents, ‘They’re trying to hold on until this movie comes.'”
Boseman choked up with tears relaying the story, and I now realize that he was quietly going through the same thing.
His passing has given me a mixture of emotions. Hurt. Frustration. Confusion. But mostly compassion for my brothers. I’m thinking of people that look like me who could be going through pain in silence.
When I think of Boseman, I think of J Dilla, the hip-hop producer and artist that died of lupus in 2006 at age 32. His final album Donuts came out on his 32nd birthday, three days before he passed. Stories circulated that the entire album was made while he was in his hospital bed after a friend brought a drum machine to his room.
I have to believe that even with the fear of imminent demise, there is solace in knowing the work will inspire more after you are gone. Rest easy, King. We got it from here.