Chadwick Boseman’s legacy surpasses his role as a Marvel superhero

By Megan Loock

Elm Staff Writer

I will never forget the chills that rippled across my body when T’Challa, Shuri, and Okyoe stepped out of the magic portal at the end of the 2019 film “Avengers: Endgame.” In a moment that saw “Avengers” villain Thanos with the upper hand, T’Challa was there to reestablish power, determination, and hope to the multiverse. 

In the darkest times, our film heroes had T’Challa to help them keep the faith. The real world had Chadwick Boseman.

Boseman’s passing was devastatingly unexpected. The news broke on Aug. 28 at 10 p.m. in a statement posted by his team on his verified twitter account. 

Boseman was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer in 2016, which progressed to stage four before his passing in 2020, at age 43. He never disclosed this information to the public, according to CBS News. 

“[Boseman] felt that in this business people trip out about things,” Boseman’s agent, Michael Greene, told The Independent. “He was a very, very private person.”

Boseman’s portrayal as King T’Challa, also known as the Black Panther, helped pave the way for a new age of representation for people of color in the superhero genre. 

While Boseman was not the only Black Marvel superhero, he was the only one elevated to a role beyond “sidekick.”

Marvel superheroes The Falcon and War Machine are played by Black actors in the Avengers movie franchise, but they were portrayed as sidekicks to their white counterparts throughout the films. 

Boseman broke free of the sidekick confinement, showing audiences that T’Challa was a leader both in and out of the Black Panther suit. 

In May 2018, Boseman delivered the main address at the 150th commencement at his alma mater, Howard University. That year, Howard University endured a massive scandal that involved employees taking money from the school that was intended for financial aid, according to the Washington Post. Refusing to pander to his school, Boseman praised student protesters and was photographed giving the Wakanda salute on stage. 

While it is possible that Boseman’s Black Panther started as a mere popculture phenomenon, it has since turned into a symbol of power and solidarity for the Black community.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Boseman fought hard with Marvel producers to include African cultural elements, such as having the actors speak with authentic African accents and writing the phrase “yibambe” into the film’s fight scenes. The word was derived from Xhosa, one of many African languages spoken in South Africa, and means “hold off” or “hold fast.”

Marvel executives reportedly argued that audiences would deem the African accents “too much,” The Washington Post reported.

“I felt the exact opposite — like, if I speak with a British accent, what’s gonna happen when I go home? It felt to me like a deal-breaker,” Boseman said in a 2018 interview with the Hollywood Reporter. “I was like, ‘No, this is such an important factor that if we lose this right now, what else are we gonna throw away for the sake of making people feel comfortable?’”

A lack of representation for people of color is a perpetual problem in popular media. The absence of diversity in Hollywood, especially when it comes to film and television protagonists, adds to the feeling of alienation that is felt by minorities every day.

Boseman continuously fought for equal representation, both on screen and off.

“Your protests are also promising because many of you will leave Howard and enter systems and institutions that have a history of discrimination and marginalization,” Boseman said to the Howard graduating class of 2018, in reference to their protests surrounding the school’s financial aid scandal. “The fact that you have struggled with this university that you loved is a sign that you can use your education to improve the world that you are entering.” 

Boseman is credited with several notable portrayals of Black men. While many attribute Boseman’s performance in “The Black Panther” as the actor’s biggest milestone, Boseman’s legacy goes beyond the big screen. He used his platform to promote Black excellence in every facet of his life. 

Chadwick Boseman gave a little bit of himself to every role he took on, whether it be an African king, the first Black MLB player, or a Supreme Court Justice, and he did it all while battling cancer. He was always there for us. 

And that is how he should be remembered. 

Featured Photo caption: Actor Chadwick Boseman died of colon cancer at the age of 43. Boseman was perhaps best known for his trailblazing role in Marvel’s “The Black Panther,” in which he played King T’Challa. Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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