OPINION: Why Chadwick Boseman's death is a devastating loss in more ways than one

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Black Panther star Chadwick Bosman sadly died after his private battle with colon cancer. (Photo: Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Black Panther star Chadwick Bosman sadly died after his private battle with colon cancer. (Photo: Gallo Images/Getty Images)

The second or third time I watched Black Panther it dawned on me that the plot was basically the same as another recent Marvel film, Thor Ragnarok. 

In both films a king dies and as a prince is set to ascend to the throne, a long-lost relative arrives to claim the crown and wage war on the kingdom and beyond. 

Thor has always been a reluctant leader; two films later he’ll decide the crown is too heavy for his head, but T’Challa accepts and welcomes his birth right.

“A boy not fit to lead,” is what M’Baku (Winston Duke) calls T’Challa during the duel where he challenges him for the leadership of Wakanda. Our hero, stripped of the mystical strength that provides his superpower, digs deep to find the strength of his ancestors and defeat his rival but shows mercy to a man who is jealous and hates him.

He does this – not only for the convenience of the plot which will require M’baku to repay his mercy by becoming an ally against the new king, Killmonger – but because he is a good man, and his actions will ultimately serve the greater good of his people.

Chadwick Boseman did the same. 

He was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer when he first played the Black Panther on-screen in 2016 and was undergoing chemotherapy for most of his brief time as a star. 

Despite the toll it must have taken on him to film superhero movies, thrillers and action films, he did it because he knew he was doing something special, something more than just creating a few hours of entertainment. 

With 42, Get On Up, Marshall and Black Panther, he was accepting a weighty responsibility; he was representing us, and our hopes and our aspirations. 

Yes, there were other black superheroes on screen, but none entered the zeitgeist the way Chadwick’s Black Panther managed to do. Sure, it was part of the Disney/Marvel juggernaut and thousands of people, from the character’s comic book creators, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, to the filmmakers all had a hand in shaping T’Challa, but Boseman gave him life. 

It was the subtle touches he brought to the character that made him stand out. He pushed the filmmakers to have Xhosa be Wakanda’s official language after he and John Kani improvised their introductory scene in Civil War speaking the language, and for T’Challa to speak with an accent. 

This way, wrote Black Panther director Ryan Coogler, “he could present T’Challa to audiences as an African king, whose dialect had not been conquered by the West”.

He similarly inhabited the real-life people he played. Physically, he bears little resemblance to Jackie Robinson, James Brown or Marshall Thurgood, but his ability to capture their essence, their spirit, and their greatness would not have been possible without harnessing his own greatness.

Chadwick’s passing is a reminder that kindness is
Chadwick’s passing is a reminder that kindness is everybody’s superpower. (Photo: Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Black Panther stars at the 76th Annual Golden Glob
Black Panther stars at the 76th Annual Golden Globe Awards. (Photo: Gallo Images/Getty Images)

It must have taken enormous strength and conviction to do what Chadwick accomplished – he didn’t only contribute to the success of a few superhero movies, he inspired a generation and changed the way movies are made. 

It wasn’t that long ago that the notion of a mainstream movie with a black lead was sneered at by Hollywood moneymen who were adamant that it would not, could not, make much money, let alone be a global blockbuster. 

Chadwick did all this while fighting for his life, in a time when actors, especially those who starred in the most popular films of all time, often have little privacy. 

He was enthusiastic about his work but not about sharing his private life. He would tour the world promoting his movies, do the talk show circuit, give interviews and meet fans, but his inner life and struggles were his own. 

It’s worth remembering he was not alone.

Many of us, and those around us, have their own struggles, often privately. Disease, depression and other mental illnesses are often invisible. 

Chadwick’s passing is a reminder that kindness is everybody’s superpower. Love and respect are for everyone all the time because life is short, and often it’s shorter than we expect it to be. 

Chadwick’s short, remarkable career gave us a hero for the ages, one with dignity and compassion, an example we can all strive to emulate. 

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