I fondly remember seeing Black Panther in theaters opening weekend more than two years ago. I always knew that the film would have a major impact. It was the first Marvel Studios movie starring a black superhero, and the first major superhero movie with a predominately black cast and crew. Black Panther was also one of my favorite superheroes, and to finally see him on the big screen was exciting, to say the least. But the energy surrounding the film’s opening weekend was higher than even I expected. My theater was crowded – not common for a Saturday morning showing – and the audience interacted heavily with the movie.
Black Panther went on to gross over $200 million in its opening weekend, as well as $1.3 billion at the worldwide box office. It earned rave reviews and became the first superhero movie to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Then there is the film’s impact on the black community, which is beyond significant. At the forefront of the film is its lead star, Chadwick Boseman.
Boseman’s career was cut far too short. His passing on August 28th, 2020 was the latest in a long line of tragedies in a tumultuous year, but the legacy he leaves behind is unparalleled. The films that he did do – while fighting colon cancer, no less – all had an incredible impact on audiences. Whether an action hero or historical figure, Boseman gave everything to each of his roles.
Following roles in The Express: The Ernie Davis Story (2008) and The Kill Hole (2012), Boseman made his big break in 2013’s 42, where he played baseball legend Jackie Robinson. This is where I first became familiar with Boseman, and I was impressed with his performance immediately. His portrayal of Robinson is authentic and heartfelt, the highlight of an already noteworthy biopic.
This wouldn’t be the first time Boseman would play a historical figure, either. He went on to portray James Brown in Get on Up (2014) and Thurgood Marshall in Marshall (2017). In addition, Boseman increased his filmography with the likes of Draft Day (2014), Gods of Egypt (2016), and Message from the King (2016). But his biggest role was yet to come…
When development on a Black Panther movie was first rumored around 2014, Boseman was my fancast for the role, and when he finally was rumored to be on the shortlist, I found it exciting. That culminated in Marvel Studios’ Phase 3 slate reveal in October 2014, where Black Panther was formally announced. Not only that, but T’Challa was confirmed to debut in Captain America: Civil War. And not only that, but Chadwick Boseman was cast in the role.
Fast forward to May 2016. I’m in the theater watching Civil War on opening weekend. As usual with Marvel movies, I loved it, and to this day, it’s one of my favorite installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). There were a lot of exciting elements in the movie, such as the MCU debut of Spider-Man and Ant-Man’s first interaction with the Avengers. But arguably the best part of the movie was Black Panther. He wasn’t introduced for a glorified cameo or mere comic relief. He was an integral part of the story, and he had a fully fleshed-out arc. Boseman’s performance only enhanced the character’s presence. Needless to say, Black Panther’s introduction was perfect, and anticipation was high for his solo outing.
T’Challa returned in 2018’s Black Panther, which explored the world of Wakanda. Again, the film was a massive box office success and left a unique cultural impact. Boseman’s presence expanded from here, and simply put, he was everywhere. He reprised the role of T’Challa in Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019). In both films, T’Challa played a critical supporting role, with Wakanda being the location of the final battle in the former. The character was dusted in Infinity War, shocking fans. Then, he was one of the first to be resurrected in Endgame, which led to much excitement. In addition to the MCU, Boseman took on roles in 21 Bridges (2019) and Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods (2020).
While Boseman’s career was in the headlines constantly, his personal struggles were far more private. In 2016, he was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer, which ultimately progressed to stage IV. He never spoke publicly about his diagnosis. In spite of this trial, Boseman remained dedicated to his craft. He filmed multiple movies during surgeries and chemotherapy, most prominently the Marvel films. The fact that he remained so committed to his roles is beyond admirable. Especially when you consider how physically demanding it is to play a superhero. Boseman continued to fight until his passing.
While Boseman has had countless memorable roles, it was T’Challa that had an impact on millions around the world. The black community has been sorely underrepresented in superhero cinema, so Black Panther was the first representation seen by countless moviegoers. Boseman’s portrayal of T’Challa inspired millions, and in the pantheon of superheroes he will always be one of the greats. He injected his kindness, charisma, and dedication into one of Marvel’s most beloved superheroes. Whatever the future holds, Boseman’s legacy will never be forgotten.
Thank you for everything, Chadwick. Rest in Power. Wakanda Forever.