Illustration of Chadwick Boseman by Diana Egan
May he rest in power. (Illustration by Diana Egan, University of Kentucky)

A Look Back at Chadwick Boseman’s Cultural Impact

The actor had a major impact on Black culture through his portrayal of several Black icons and legendary characters.

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Illustration of Chadwick Boseman by Diana Egan

The actor had a major impact on Black culture through his portrayal of several Black icons and legendary characters.

On Aug. 28, 2020, the world grieved. Late in the evening, I saw three news alerts that created a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. The iconic movie star, TV star and activist Chadwick Boseman had died.

As I read several articles declaring that he had died after a four-year battle with colon cancer, I couldn’t believe my eyes. How could one man be so strong for his fans but internally be fighting a battle that very few knew about?

Over these past few years, Boseman has shown us thrilling characters — characters that allowed us to leave our inhibitions behind and become consumed with the story. He was a great actor, husband and person that created “good trouble,” as the late civil rights leader John Lewis would have said. Let’s remember him for what we have gained and not for what we have lost.

His Work

One of the most legendary roles that the South Carolina native portrayed was Jackie Robinson in the movie “42.” Robinson, the major league baseball player who broke the color barrier as the first African American to play in the league, is artfully played by Chadwick Boseman. Through raw emotion, Boseman gives the audience an in-depth look into Robinson’s life.

Rachel Robinson, the late wife of Jackie Robinson, said that watching Boseman’s performance was like seeing Jackie play again.

The 2013 film was the breakout role of Boseman’s career, launching him to a new level of celebrity with his ability to play historical Black figures.

The actor later starred in the movie “Get on Up,” a tribute to the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. In telling Brown’s journey from poverty to being one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Chadwick Boseman captures the mannerisms and charisma that James Brown was known for. Through doing his own dancing and some of the singing, Boseman shows how Brown was a cultural icon for the world of funk.

In 2016, everything changed. I remember going to the theater with my friends to watch the most anticipated film of the year: “Black Panther.”

The film, which made 1.344 billion dollars at the box office, was a cultural reset. For many Black films in Hollywood, a theme of overcoming racial discrimination and adversity are at the forefront, but this film was different. For once, we saw Black courage, strength and African influence in a film.

Recreating the various accents in the film became a running joke and a joy that was absent from before Black cinema returned. And the movies just kept coming.

The Black Panther character was also featured in the long-anticipated blockbuster, “Avengers: Endgame.” The most powerful scene in the film is when all of the Avengers and other superheroes in the Marvel Universe come together as one to fight Thanos and his goons in Wakanda.

As a Marvel fan, I nearly cried watching this scene, and I look back on that as one of the final scenes that Boseman was ever a part of as the Black Panther.

Last but certainly not least, on June 12, 2020, Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” was released on Netflix. Who better than Boseman to play a Black veteran on the search for his squad leader and forgotten gold?

Cultural Impact

When I think about Chadwick Boseman’s career, I think about a few things. Boseman was our generation’s Denzel Washington: A strong, charismatic actor who played every role with grace and poise.

The day that “Black Panther” was released, there was good mayhem. When I tell you that everyone and their mother saw that film, I am not kidding.

I remember thinking that seeing someone who looked like me was such a powerful thing. It wasn’t another movie about racism or the civil rights movement, but it was about a real superhero who wasn’t just a supporting character, the Black best friend or the criminal.

The Black Panther character was chosen for times like these to be a positive impact for a whole new generation of superhero fanatics.

The phrase “Wakanda Forever” is a battle cry. It’s a reminder of how rich and strong African and Black history is. It is woven into almost every aspect of “American” culture, and for many of us, we may not even see it. But “Black Panther” showed the revolution of what Africa could have been without colonization and strife, and it also tells the tale of where it is going.

From his various roles, such as Thurgood Marshall and Jackie Robinson, Boseman made history come to life. His films weren’t the kind that your teacher made you watch during Black History Month, but they were the films you used your own money to see.

His voice, emotions and stature were evident in every role he played.

His Legacy Lives On

Even though Chadwick Boseman rests in power, his legacy will still carry on. Because of the internet, we all have the opportunity to relive the movies that shaped us.

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It is with immeasurable grief that we confirm the passing of Chadwick Boseman.⁣ ⁣ Chadwick was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, and battled with it these last 4 years as it progressed to stage IV. ⁣ ⁣ A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all, and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much. From Marshall to Da 5 Bloods, August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and several more, all were filmed during and between countless surgeries and chemotherapy. ⁣ ⁣ It was the honor of his career to bring King T’Challa to life in Black Panther. ⁣ ⁣ He died in his home, with his wife and family by his side. ⁣ ⁣ The family thanks you for your love and prayers, and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time. ⁣ ⁣ Photo Credit: @samjonespictures

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But get excited. Before Boseman passed away, he filmed the upcoming film “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which is a 1982 adaptation of a play by the same name. His legacy and his joy for creating films will continue.

The Howard University graduate, who almost gave up acting entirely to pursue directing, has created a standard for others to strive for. The world gets to see his legacy continue long after he’s gone; it is truly is a beautiful sight to see.

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