Tears were shed from fans across the country on August 28th when news struck of beloved actor Chadwick Boseman's death. Diagnosed in 2016, Boseman had spent the last four years battling stage three colon cancer, which had progressed to stage four just before his time of passing the other week. Fortunately, Boseman died in the peace and comfort of his own home surrounded by the familiarity and warmth of his wife, Taylor Simone Ledward, and close friends and family. Though he was just 43 years of age, Boseman led a life passion that was filled with professional and personal accomplishments.
Born and raised in Anderson, South Carolina, Boseman was the youngest of three brothers. His mother, Carolyn, worked as a nurse while his father, Leroy, worked in agriculture with a side business as an upholsterer. “I saw him work a lot of third shifts, a lot of night shifts,” Boseman said to the New York Times, “Whenever I work a particularly hard week, I think of him.”
As a boy, Boseman followed in the footsteps of both of his older brothers. Watching his brother, Kevin, dance in productions initially exposed him to the arts and sparked an interest in artistic expression. Meanwhile Derrick, his oldest brother, led to Boseman becoming competitive in athletics, eventually playing high level basketball in high school. Ultimately it was the arts that captured Boseman’s heart the most as an emotional and creative outlet. The killing of a close friend and teammate in high school prompted Boseman to write a play as emotional release and leave behind the world of competitive sports.
Shortly thereafter, Boseman attended Howard University with dreams of becoming a director in the arts program. After graduation, Boseman lived a life of what he described as “just being an artist in New York.” Eventually making his way across the country to Hollywood, Boseman began securing more roles in TV and film.
His breakout role playing Jackie Robinson in 42 started the wave of his biopic portrayals of prominent black historical figures like Thurgood Marshall in Marshall and James Brown in Get on Up. In 2018, Boseman became a face recognized across the country after starring as Marvel’s first black superhero, the Black Panther.
Boseman displayed unparalleled dedication to his characters. He developed his representations by searching through the characters’ pasts to find their fears, failures, wounds, and internalized identities. He described his method of character discovery to Rolling Stone: “You’re a strong black man in a world that conflicts with that strength, that really doesn’t want you to be great. So what makes you the one who’s going to stand tall?”
Boseman has expressed his support for black power beyond the screen as well. During this summer’s protests against systemic racism and police brutality, Boseman supported the movement saying, “White supremacy and racial prejudice are [this United States’] pre-existing conditions. Change is here” and calling on the Hollywood industry to cut ties with police departments.
The shock of his early death left prominent figures in the artistic industries and the civic sphere alike stricken with grief. Former vice president and 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden acknowledged that in his life Boseman had “inspired generations and showed them they can be anything they want — even super heroes,” over Twitter. Eldest son of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and human rights activist Martin Luther King III memorialized the actor and his works that “brought history to life on the silver screen.” Oprah Winfrey also remembered Boseman as “a gentle gifted soul. Showing us all the greatness in between surgeries and chemo...the courage, the strength, the Power that it takes to do that. This is what Dignity looks like.”
Many seem to share a similar sentiment; Boseman’s movie portrayals of powerful black characters coupled with his humble attitude and concern for social progress seem to have made him an image of true black male hero in the eyes of his colleagues, friends, and supporters.