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Chadwick Boseman speaking at the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con International in San Diego, California.
By Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61392568

Chadwick Boseman, who rose to international stardom as the Marvel superhero Black Panther, has passed from complications of stage IV colon cancer after a four year fight. The actor and producer passed away at the age of 43 on Friday, August 28.

Boseman family statement released via Twitter

Mr. Boseman’s family released a statement via his Twitter account , in part; “It is with immeasurable grief that we confirm the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman. Chadwick was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, and battled with it these last 4 years as it progressed to stage IV….it was the honor of his career to bring King T’Challa to life in Black Panther…He died in his home, with his wife and family by his side.”

More than a Superhero

While Mr. Boseman rose to international fame for his role as King T’Challa of Wakanda and his superhero alter ego Black Panther, his career started years earler and consisted of more than acting.

Starting in 2003, he appeared in various guest roles on episodes of TV series including Third Watch, Law & Order, CSI:NY and ER, getting recurring roles in 2008 on Lincoln Heights and in 2010 on Persons Unknown. His first feature film was The Express: The Ernie Davis Story and played Jackie Robinson in 2013’s 42. The next year, he appeared alongside Kevin Costner in Draft Day and as James Brown in Get on Up.

In 2016, he appeared as the Egyptian god of wisdom, Thoth in Gods of Egypt, but that was overshadowed by his breakthrough role later that year in Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War which was the first of five Marvel movies he was contracted to appear in.

He reprised the role of Black Panther in the titular role of the 2018 movie, helping to prove that a major studio blockbuster starring a cast primarily consisting of people of color could bring in box office gold. He appeared twice more in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: End Game. He was slated to appear again leading Black Panther 2, the first film of Phase Five of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and which was to open on May 6, 2022. With the production delays brought on by COVID, it is unknown if any scenes have been shot and it is too early to speculate about who will take up the role and whether the release date will slip.

After End Game, he appeared in 2019’s thriller 21 Bridges and Spike Lee’s 2020 war drama Da 5 Bloods.

Writer and Director

In addition to his film and television work, Mr. Boseman also wrote and directed stage plays. His first one, Crossroads was staged at his high school his junior year after a classmate was shot and killed. After graduating from New York City’s Digital Film Academy, he lived in Brooklyn, working at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture as a drama instructor, and later directed an off-broadway play in the East Village before getting cast as Jackie Robinson as his original intent was to pursue directing rather than acting.

Representation Matters

In playing historical figures such as Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Mr. Boseman introduced their stories to new audiences. By taking on the mantle of the Black Panther, he breathed life into the character first introduced in Fantastic Four in 1966. In a sad coincidence, Mr. Boseman’s death comes on what would have been Black Panther co-creator Jack Kirby’s 103rd birthday. At the time of his first appearance on screen as the Defender of Wakanda, many people of color remarked that this was indeed a cultural milestone as such heroic roles were few and far between. In pop culture, one had to look as far back as Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back, and later, The Return of the Jedi for an example of a complex, heroic character.

In the current world we live in, there is an extremely relevant quote that Mr. Boseman delivers in Black Panther that is worth remembering:

“We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.”

King T’Challa, The Black Panther

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Wyatt D. Odd
Wyatt D. Odd
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