I’d intended on sharing a rather humorous, post-hurricane update today, something I wrote on Friday morning about a pesky little insect that plagues the Gulf Coast at the peak of hurricane season. It’s funny and I’m proud of it…but we lost one of our great Marvel storytellers on Friday night, and I’d far rather postpone the other post and pay tribute to Chadwick Boseman this morning instead.
When I heard Chadwick had passed, it felt like being hit by a bus. He was so young, so charismatic, and so obviously a warm and compassionate soul. His co-stars, directors, and friends have all testified to his integrity, kindness, and his deep appreciation for goodness and beauty.
In my experience, I’ve admired him ever since I saw him in 42, all the way back in 2013. His portrayal of legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson was so compelling, I was more than a little bit in love with him by the end. But as wonderful as he was in 42, King T’Challa of Wakanda–one of the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe–will go down in history as his most iconic role.
Black Panther–the ninth highest-grossing film of all time–won three Academy Awards and was the first superhero film to receive a nomination for Best Picture. Far more importantly, it was a tremendously positive representation of African characters and culture. I was blown away by the beauty and strength of Wakanda and her people–but I can only imagine what an absolute delight it must’ve been for my African neighbors all across the globe.
And the characters in this movie–stunning! The heroines–Shuri, Queen Ramonda, Nakia, Okoye–are some of the best in the entire Marvel universe. Erik Killmonger is one of the fiercest and most convincing antagonists; W’Kabi, M’Baku, and Zuri are all well-developed, sympathetic allies and friends.
Yet T’Challa rises above them all: a young king who thinks he’s invincible until he finds out he’s not, and who finally discovers where his true strength lies. He’s kindhearted, good-humored, and humble enough to repent not only of his own faults, but the sins of his forefathers, as well.
“You are a good man with a good heart,” his father tells him, “and it is hard for a good man to be king.” But T’Challa proves–not just in Black Panther, but in Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame–that while it may be hard for a good man to be a king, it isn’t impossible.
The grief I’ve felt over Chadwick Boseman’s death reminds me of the intense sorrow I felt when Carrie Fisher died in 2016. I cried bitterly when she passed away, and it shocked me. Why was I weeping like this over someone I didn’t know?! But here’s what I realized (and expressed in a post on my old blog):
[A]n actor or actress is not their character…but they kinda are, all the same. They’ve breathed life into the characters we know and love, characters who’ve inspired and comforted us, who’ve made us laugh and cry…So unless they’re just downright unpleasant, distasteful individuals, you can’t help but feel a certain connection with [them]…And if they’ve actually tried to make a legitimate, positive difference through their art, and if the people around them think they’re just lovely, that makes it even easier to see them as real people, with real souls and hearts as needy for Jesus as our own.
Death is a thief, and we have been robbed. We have every reason to grieve Chadwick Boseman’s loss. Not only did he give all of us (but especially young people of color) a fictional hero of strength and dignity, but he was, by all accounts, a wonderful man. There’s no shame in our sorrow. None at all.
But thanks to his dedication and his perseverance in the face of terrible suffering, the stories he told will live on–and they will inspire the rest of us to tell our own stories for years to come. This is Chadwick Boseman’s legacy, and it is a kingly one.