Jackie Robinson. Thurgood Marshall. James Brown. Three Black heroic icons in their respective professions. To that, add T’Challa (aka Black Panther) and you have four superheroes.
Aside from their hero status, what do these four men have in common: Chadwick Boseman, who passed away at the age of 43 on August 28 after a four year battle with colon cancer.
Much of Hollywood has stepped up to social media to pay their respects to this beloved actor. So, I’m not alone in feeling devastated about this loss and I do not want to attempt to rehash the beautiful sentiments from others. I also do not want to resort to the many cliches that are often used when someone young passes away.
What I will do is speak of the first time I saw Mr. Boseman on screen…which happened to be in the biopic of Jackie Robinson, 42. Before this 2013 movie, Boseman had done mostly episodes of TV shows, aside from a bit part in the 2008 movie The Express and a 2012 direct-to-video flick called The Kill Hole with Billy Zane. So, to say 42 was Boseman’s breakout movie role would be an understatement. It was his first pivotal role in a major Hollywood studio release and also his first starring role. Let’s add that he is playing one of the most famous, respected, and revered Black heroes of all time, Jackie Robinson.
Basically, what I’m saying is that this was big time. Everything was riding on this role, this movie, and this chance. And Boseman stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park. Way out.
42 is a great movie, mostly because of Boseman’s tour-de-force performance. There is nothing half-way about his portrayal as Robinson. He gives the baseball great everything he has to give…and more. Boseman is tough when he needs to be but not tough enough to reveal Robinson’s tender side in moments with his wife. When he’s on screen with Harrison Ford’s Branch Rickey, Boseman is right there, challenging Indiana Jones himself to an actor’s duel…and winning!
There was nothing that was not said through Boseman’s performance in 42. He laid it all out on the screen for us to see and feel.
As he did with his next biopic of James Brown in 2014’s Get On Up. Brown is known for being a singer with a trademark physicality. By taking on Brown, Boseman not only had big vocal shoes to fill but also massive dancer and entertainer shoes. Boseman ended up doing all of his own dancing and much of the singing for the movie, which took months of training and preparation.
Then, in 2017, Boseman once again takes on a man who needs no introduction, this time Thurgood Marshall in the biopic Marshall. Like with Jackie Robinson, Boseman doesn’t leave anything out of his performance as the first Black Supreme Court Justice. Marshall’s intensity and passion is channeled through Boseman’s expert skill and all we can do is sit back and watch in awe.
And, I haven’t even gotten to Black Panther yet.
Since he had been living with cancer for four years, much of Black Panther’s shooting schedule and then press tour was occurring during Boseman’s treatment. And since it was a Marvel Cinematic Universe film, it had an intense schedule of both. Could we tell this from Boseman’s manner or demeanor during press for the movie? Not in the least. Neither could we tell in his Black Panther performance, which is powerful, impassioned, and riveting, where he insisted on having his character speak Xhosa (one of the languages of South Africa and Zimbabwe) and where he memorized his lines in Xhosa in one day. Nor could we tell in his 2019 film, 21 Bridges, or his 2020 Netflix movie for director Spike Lee, Da 5 Bloods. Nor will we be able to tell in his upcoming film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, based on the August Wilson play.
Like Robinson, like Marshall, Boseman was a true American hero. And like Black Panther, Boseman was the truest definition of a real Superhero.
If you’d like to enjoy more Chadwick Boseman films, check out this list I’ve compiled here.