By Nicole Chedraoui
It was in the late hours of the night on August 28th, 2020, that the heart-wrenching news began to spread like wildfire. The dreadful news headline that reverberated throughout the media almost instantly. That one singular sentence, that gutted millions around the world. Chadwick Boseman, dead at the age of 43. It was revealed that his life was cut short by a painful four year private battle with colon cancer. Chadwick Boseman was a fighter, a strong force to be reckoned with, on and off the screen. Most people recognize him as the Marvel Avenger “Black Panther,” who made several appearances in various Marvel films; however, Boseman is so much more than just a Hollywood actor. Chadwick Boseman’s life and legacy deserve to be honored. His story deserves to be heard, and his heart deserves to be shared.
Chad’s story starts out in the small town of Anderson, South Carolina, where he was born on November 29th, 1976, making Chadwick the youngest in his family. His mother Carolyn was a nurse and his father Leroy was a textile manufacturer. Growing up in this small town, Boseman was described as a quiet kid, who idolized his parents and the Boseman’s that came before him. In a 2019 interview with The New York Times, he told publishers that his work ethic came from his father: “I saw him work a lot of third shifts, a lot of night shifts,” Boseman told The New York Times. “Whenever I work a particularly hard week, I think of him.” His eldest brother Derrick now works as a preacher, but when the two were younger, Chadwick describes always being competitive with his brother and always trying to beat him in sports. Chadwick was an incredibly skilled basketball player, and had what it took to be recruited by colleges; however, it was the path of the arts that truly began to pique his interest.
Chadwick had another older brother, Kevin, an extremely talented dancer, whose dance company even got the opportunity to tour with the cast of The Lion King. Chadwick would tag along with his mother to pick up his brother from rehearsals, and that’s when his fascination began. It was during this time in his life when tragedy struck. Chadwick witnessed his friend and fellow basketball teammate get shot and killed. This permanently stunted his basketball ambitions and drove him to channel his emotions into writing. He ended up writing an entire/ a full-length play titled Crossroads, and the school staged several productions of it. He said this was the moment he knew sports were behind him and in its place, a storyteller.
After graduating high school in 1995, Chadwick began attending Howard University in Washington DC, with dreams of becoming a director. He took countless acting classes to help him learn how to effectively communicate with actors. It was there he was given the once in a lifetime opportunity to be mentored by the iconic Phylicia Rashad- AKA- The Cosby Show’s, Clair Huxtable. When describing Chadwick in an interview in 2018 she stated, “Chad was this lanky young man with big eyes and an endearing smile and a very gentle way. What I saw in him was the sky was the limit. He never asked me to introduce him to anyone – that’s not his way. He was going to make it on his own merits.” While under her tutelage, Boseman and many of his classmates decided to apply to a prestigious theatre program at Oxford University, while he was beyond qualified, he, unlike his classmates, lacked the money to attend. So Rashad called in some favors, and Boseman’s benefactor was none other than Denzel Washington. In 2018 Chadwick met Denzel for the first time at an award show for Black Panther and said he expressed how eternally grateful he is for Denzel, saying he wouldn’t have landed Black Panther without him.
After graduating college in 2000, Boseman settled down in Brooklyn where he began writing and directing plays in New York’s hip-hop theatre scene. He worked as a drama instructor for young actors with potential, housed at the Schomburg Center, a research library dedicated to black culture in Harlem. As Rashad told Rolling Stone, “He was so proud and fulfilled by that. When he talked about it, he became like sunshine – he loved it so much.” It was while he was working this job that he started auditioning for various roles on TV, and his rise to fame began. He first landed gigs on Law and Order SVU, Third Watch, and ER. He also landed a recurring role on the short-lived ABC series called Lincoln Heights. He later landed his first-ever movie role, The Express: The Ernie Davis Story, and it wasn’t even 2 years later that he landed his first re-occurring lead role on the NBC series: Persons Unknown.
His big break came to life when he landed the role of playing Jackie Robinson in the movie 42. After having the privilege of playing Robinson, he later landed the unique role of the Godfather of Soul in 2014’s, Get On Up, followed by the role of playing the first black Supreme Court justice in 2017’s film, Marshall. It was after this role that he slipped on his vibranium suit and portrayed the fearless king of Wakanda. Chadwick wanted to bring light to the painfully limited quality of materials afforded to black actors in Hollywood. “Very often, the humanity for black characters is not there,” Boseman told Rolling Stone. He made it a point to seek out projects that carried the same emotional weight he wanted to portray after the tragic shooting of his friend in his early childhood. “For me, doing this, it has to be meaningful,” he told the magazine. “Because that’s how it started.” These three roles he played embodied a trio of powerful black heroes, serving as catalysts for discussing racism in Hollywood. He shares that he was touched to see how people reacted to his performance of such a beloved comic book character and how he was able to make his mark in the black community. He shared that he was glad that he could make children in the black community feel included, and like they could be a superhero, for he never thought he could be growing up.
Chadwick Boseman was not only successful and talented, but he has also been described as someone with a warm and giving soul. His love for activism fueled every role he accepted, not the money or the fame, just the opportunity to present the Marvel Universe with a world that honors and celebrates the black community. When accepting his Screen Actors Guild Award, he stated, “To be young, gifted, and Black, we all know what it’s like to be told that there is not a place for you to be featured. We knew that we had something special that we wanted to give to the world. That we could be full human beings in the roles we were playing. That we could create a world that exemplified a world that we wanted to see.” The time he spent making these films the best they could be was strenuous, and all while his body was fighting through countless chemotherapies and surgeries. It was in 2016, that he was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer, and the shock of the devastating news only made him work harder, and try to make more of a difference with what time he had left.
After receiving the news of his diagnosis, Chadwick made sure to stop by frequently and visit the young cancer patients in the St. Judes Children’s Research Hospital. In 2018 he tweeted, “Had a birthday celebration with a beautiful little princess, Mady. She let me throw the confetti twice. I think I had as much fun as she did.” That same year while Boseman was on the radio show, Sirius XM, he broke down in tears as he remembered two young fans who passed away from cancer before they were able to see Black Panther. “Throughout our filming, I was communicating with them, knowing that they were both terminal. What they said to me and what their parents said, they… trying to hold on til this movie comes,” he recalled. “You hear them say that and you’re like, ‘Wow… I gotta get up and go to the gym, I gotta get up and go to work, I gotta learn these lines.’” He wanted to give these kids a sense of purpose. He wanted to be the reason they smiled every single day. He visited those children every day till his last, or till his body couldn’t physically bear it.
He was an activist. A caregiver. A lover. A brother. A son. A voice. A ray of light.
“When I dared to challenge the system that would relegate us to victims and stereotypes with no clear historical backgrounds, no hopes or talents, when I questioned that method of portrayal, a different path opened up for me, the path to my destiny. When God has something for you, it doesn’t matter who stands against it. God will move someone who’s holding you back, away from a door and put someone there who will open it for you.”
- Chadwick Boseman
Rest in Peace to a beautiful soul gone way too soon. Wakanda forever.