Updated: August 30, 2020 8:20:29 am
A South Carolina native, Boseman was already a star when he was cast in the role of T’Challa or Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Before the actor briefly appeared as the superhero in Russo Brothers’ Captain America: Civil War, he had made his name due to the portrayal of baseball star Jackie Robinson alongside Harrison Ford in the 2013 movie 42.
But it was 2018’s Black Panther, directed by Ryan Coogler, that made Chadwick Boseman a household name. The film was historic in many ways, not least because it was the first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie with a black actor in the lead. While MCU already had Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson or Falcon and Don Cheadle as James Rhodes or Iron Patriot, those characters were basically sidekicks to Captain America and Iron Man, respectively.
Black Panther had a predominantly black cast (unheard of for a major, high-budgeted movie) with only Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis as white actors. Coogler, directing a script penned by him and Joe Robert Cole, wrote a film that was unapologetic about its blackness. The film celebrated African cultures and people. It was a tale of black power and black pride in addition to its superhero themes.
Although Black Panther had all the eye-candy and visual effects of any other MCU movie, it was more than a mish-mash of CGI. Even before its release, it had become a cultural phenomenon and was luring those moviegoers to theaters who otherwise would not leave their homes to watch any movie. It tackled complex themes like racism, slavery and identity while being endlessly entertaining and fun to watch.
The story was about T’Challa after his return home in the wake of his father’s death and the Civil War. He is enthroned king of Wakanda, a fictional African nation that poses as a typical sub-Saharan country, but is actually the most advanced on the planet. This is due to the vibranium technology that was also used to build T’Challa’s super-advanced suit, which envelopes his body like Tony Stark’s nano-tech suit.
Chadwick Boseman played Black Panther with a vulnerability, awkwardness and self-doubt of a young king on whose shoulders there is a new responsibility. With his boyish visage, his T’Challa exuded an easy charm that was hard not to like.That he was giving that performance while fighting cancer at the same time makes the performance all the more heroic.
While in Wakanda, T’Challa faced threats to his throne in the form of Michael B Jordan’s Killmonger and Serkis’ Ulysses Klaue. While Serkis was gloriously insane and entertaining as Klaue, Killmonger was the true bad guy of the film with complex motivations that were hard to counter or even argue with.
When Killmonger is defeated by T’Challa at the end of the film, the king of Wakanda urges the former to surrender. To which Killmonger replies, “Just bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, ’cause they knew death was better than bondage.”
Black Panther grossed over $1.3 billion worldwide and broke numerous box office records, including the highest-grossing film by a black director. The war cry of the Wakandan army, Wakanda Forever, took a life of its own.
Despite scoring the role of Black Panther, however, the lead character in a major superhero movie, Chadwick Boseman was realistic about what it means to be black. He did believe the movie was a significant step in the right direction, but there was more to be done. A lot more.
He told eonline.com just before the release of Black Panther in February 2018, “When I was shooting Black Panther in Atlanta, I used to drive back on off-days to go see my family in Anderson (South Carolina). It’s about two hours. And I would see the Klan holding rallies in a Walmart car park. So it’s like we’re going forwards and backwards at the same time. People don’t want to experience change, they just want to wake up and it’s different. But this—shooting Black Panther and then driving past the Klan—that’s what change feels like.”
Chadwick Boseman may be gone, but he has immortalised his name by portraying Black Panther.
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