The death of actor Chadwick Boseman on Aug. 28 came as a shock to members of various communities. The late actor was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer in 2016, a diagnosis that he chose to keep private. His family announced that he died at his Los Angeles home at the age of 43, surrounded by loved ones, with a message on Twitter.
Boseman’s brief Hollywood career was defined by portraying Black icons such as legendary singer James Brown, and Jackie Robinson, the first Black man to play Major League Baseball in the modern era.
Following Boseman’s cancer diagnosis, he continued to take on groundbreaking roles, portraying the first Black Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, as well as Marvel’s first Black superhero, the Black Panther, for which he received international acclaim. His performance in Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Black Panther” was integral to the movie earning over $1 billion at the box office, in addition to winning three Academy Awards (the MCU’s first) in 2019.
Boseman’s dedication to his fans cannot be disputed, as a significant chunk of his filmography comes after his cancer diagnosis in 2016. Boseman’s impact on the Black community similarly cannot be understated. Describing the cultural significance of his role as the Black Panther, Boseman said, “This experience is an opening for people’s consciousness. Their boundaries should be shaken and moved. There’s a hero here that I hope people grow to love.” His final two performances are in “Da 5 Bloods,” directed by Spike Lee, and in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” based on one of the prolific playwright August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle plays, which chronicle the 20th century Black American experience.
In a year where Black trauma has been unrelenting, the loss of another cultural figure is difficult to fathom. Bosman’s death on both the day that the MLB commemorates Jackie Robinson’s life, and on the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington makes it even more impactful to the Black community.
Boseman’s family, friends, and colleagues paid tribute to him with touching messages on social media. His life and legacy will not soon be forgotten.