Friday, May 28, 2021

Remembering Chadwick Boseman’s Life of Purpose

I’ve been honoring actor Chadwick Boseman at The Wild Reed on the 28th day of every month since his death last year on August 28. Chadwick died of colon cancer, and although he had been living with the disease since 2016, he never spoke of it publicly.

Today, nine months to the day since his passing, I honor Chad by sharing an excerpt from Soma Ghosh’s powerful tribute, “He Makes You Think He’s Lost When He’s Won: On Chadwick Boseman.”

Although published last Semptember, just a few days after Chadwick’s passing, I only recently came across Ghosh’s tribute, published by The Quietus. It is definitely worth reading in its entirety, and to give you a sense of why, I share today (with added images and links) an excerpt from Ghosh’s beautifully-written and insightful tribute to Chadwick Boseman.


I wanted him to linger. Time slowed down, when he spoke, dusted with his South Carolina drawl. His eyes shielded his vulnerability and power. The two were inextricable.

But Chadwick Boseman, Marvel’s Black Panther, is dead at 43, from colon cancer. He said he believed in purpose. I wanted a film whose artistic purpose was Chadwick Boseman – but a Black man carries the burden of working for his people. Boseman turned duty into art. He’s shown us that superheroes can be shy, goofy and human. “Purpose,” said Boseman, addressing students at his alma mater, Howard University, in 2018, “is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history." He may have been describing himself, an emblem of new Black masculinity.

Boseman pursued the smaller tics of big men, from footballer Floyd Little (The Express, 2008) and baseball legend Jackie Robinson in 42 (2013) to Black rights lawyer Marshall Thurgood in Marshall (2017) and – my personal favourite – James Brown in Get On Up (2014). When pushed to command, Boseman coils inward. He is most watchable when listening, or withdrawing. In Spike Lee’s [. . .] film, Da 5 Bloods, he plays Norman, a Black saviour, as a man almost disintegrating with love as he preaches to his fellow soldiers.

[. . .] Boseman was a creator and an avid student. He wrote plays from a young age, often using hip-hop. He trained as a director at Howard. He was sponsored by Denzel Washington to attend Shakespearean summer school in Oxford. To play T’Challa in four Marvel movies, he traced in his veins the Krio and Limba blood of Sierra Leone, and the Yoruba blood of Nigeria, via DNA testing. He incorporated Afro-Brazilian Capoeira into his fighting moves. He drew on his jiu jitsu training to access a warrior’s spiritual mindset – then added To-Shin Do, Muay Thai and over four hours of body-building. He made Black Panther and other films while diagnosed with stage III colon cancer. He had a staggering work ethic and “a manifesto”. Fired from the popular soap All My Children, because he protested the stereotyping of his gang member character, he said, “I was like, ‘This is not part of my manifesto. This is not part of what I want to do. How can I make it work?’”

Perky and upright in person, this “work” bows Boseman’s spine, when he plays the Black hero. In 42, playing Jackie Robinson, he tells baseball executive Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), “It doesn’t matter what I believe. It matters what I do.” One of the things Boseman does, in leadership roles, is to tuck in his honed dancer’s physique. At 6 ft, he appears far slighter than the similarly-scaled Poitier, Elba or Washington. Puckish, he magnetizes one side of the frame, where directors place him, as a centripetal force. In 42, his main “work” is “to have the guts,” as Rickey demands, “to not fight back.” The drama, in this otherwise stolid film, builds by watching Boseman being sneered at by white racists, insulted and ostracised. With Harrison Ford licking his avuncular chops, Boseman resists the obvious move of playing an outraged ingenue. He contracts towards the thing he loves: his game, his uniform and the team-mates he wins over. His inwardness redirects our eyes – much like the kinetic rebound powers of the Black Panther’s suit – towards the antagonists. Boseman negotiates white spaces the way we must: sideways.

Soma Ghosh
Excerpted from “He Makes You Think He’s Lost
When He’s Won: On Chadwick Boseman

The Quietus
September 4, 2020

NEXT: The Poltical Legacy
of Chadwick Boseman

Related Off-site Links:
Howard University Names Newly Re-Established College of Fine Arts for Chadwick Boseman – Angelique Jackson (Variety, May 26, 2021).
Black Panther Fans “Nervous” About Sequel Without Chadwick BosemanShowbiz Cheat Sheet (May 25, 2021).
MTV Awards 2021: Chadwick Boseman Posthumously Wins Best Performance in a Movie; Receives Standing Ovation – Pamela Avila, Cydney Henderson, Anika Reed (USA Today, May 17, 2021).
Black Panther II “So Respectful” of Chadwick Boseman Loss, Lupita Nyong’o Says – Akhil Arora (Gadgets 360, May 3, 2021).
Marvel Reveals Black Panther Sequel's Title and Release Date in Nostalgic Mega-Trailer – Jenna Ryu (USA Today, May 3, 2021).

For The Wild Reed’s series that remembers and celebrates Chadwick Boseman, see:
Remembering Chadwick Boseman
Honoring An Icon
Chadwick Boseman’s Timeless Message to Young Voters: “You Can Turn Our Nation Around”
Chadwick Boseman’s Final Film Role: “A Reed Instrument for Every Painful Emotion”
Celebrating a Special Day
Boseman on Wilson
Chadwick Boseman and That “Heavenly Light”
In This Time of Grief
A Bittersweet Accolade
Chadwick Boseman Receives Posthumous NAACP Image Award
“He Was Just Interested In the Work”

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Important Cultural Moment That Is Black Panther
Celebrating Black Panther – Then and Now
“Avengers Assemble!”
Jason Johnson on Stan Lee’s Revolutionary Legacy
Another First for Black Panther
“Something Special,” Indeed!
Queer Black Panther

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