Guest writer, John Tuttle examines the extraordinary legacy Chadwick Boseman left behind
John Tuttle is a journalist and creative. His writing can be found at The Hill, Tablet Magazine, The Millions, Policy Network, Medium, and elsewhere.
Rising out of the politically-charged cacophony social media has been lately, I came upon a post that filled me with something other than meh. I stared at a picture of a smiling man's face – immediately recognizable. Above it read, "RIP Chadwick Boseman, 1977-2020."
A storm of updates spattered themselves across media networks. Everyone started posting the image of T'Challa venturing through the spirit realm to find his father. That, and some folks on TikTok and other social media platforms started bashing Boseman and the fictitious nation of Wakanda.
Social media often becomes an outlet for people who like to hear themselves, not those who have something meaningful to say. Comments of judgment are spewed out with no consideration. This is exactly what happened in the case of Boseman's death.
It was in poor taste, and there was no good reason for it. But I suppose those who can't offer a defense for themselves become easy victims. From the moment I heard what happened to Boseman – up till now – I've been filled with a sense of sorrow and loss. I'm not the first to have known this loss, nor will I be able to fathom the extent others may.
Nevertheless, it's disheartening.
In my mind, Boseman stands firm as the definitive on-screen take of Marvel's Black Panther. There was only one king, only one man right for the role. And he fit that vibranium suit as if it was always meant to be. Neither belittling, his trying four-year bout with colon cancer, nor dismissing his celebrated roles in other productions, it can easily be said Boseman remains most often associated with his pop culture icon from the MCU.
Black Panther, though a character who was terribly underplayed in the Infinity Saga films, has had a huge impact on fans. The character's first standalone installment, in which Boseman starred, was well-received at the box office as well as at award ceremonies. Boseman became the face of an icon. In the professional world, he and the cast of Black Panther (2018) showed everyone the Black community has as much invested in the entertainment arena as anyone.
To an enormous fandom and youths in search of a role model, Boseman also became a superhero, one of the most admirable. The average audience age range for your typical MCU film is 18-34, according to a 2018 Statista report. Yet, Boseman's character was able to step far beyond the confines of that limited audience. Black Panther crossed boundaries – racially and politically, connecting people.
He appealed to young adults who knew what loss and expectancy feel like, but also to young kids who were looking for someone who would stand with them. His was a message that shall always be relevant. In Captain America: Civil War (2016), T'Challa has to be the voice of reason, while simultaneously being the one who confronts the deepest, freshest pain. His father T'Chaka has been assassinated and, despite his anger, he refuses to let vengeance consume him.
He looks around and sees what hate has already accomplished, and he doesn't want it to go any further. T'Challa's message is one of peace and unity. It's clearly one of his primary focuses in Black Panther. He is a king who's as courteous as he is courageous.
Chadwick Boseman was rather like the king himself. Among all the sorrowful notes from Hollywood's elite, the potent words of Black Panther co-star Lupita Nyong'o may be best for describing who he was.
"You come across some people in life," Nyong'o said, "that possess an immortal energy...Chadwick was one of those people."
Elsewhere, she described him as fuelled by love.
If you search Boseman's name on Google, you quickly see he was one not lacking in joy. Like the celebrated final tweet from his official Twitter account, he is continually seen smiling. He's really beaming.
I wish more of us could capture genuine happiness akin to that of the late Chadwick Boseman. His memory remains ever an example of breaking down racial barriers, offering hope, and showing others what a smile looks like.