When news came late Friday night that Chadwick Boseman, the actor who played King T’Challa in the Black Panther and Avenger movies, had died at age 43, the news hit me harder than I thought it would.
Boseman had been battling, unbeknownst to most, colon cancer for four years. This time had included the time he was working on the Black Panther movie. If you haven’t had cancer or a serious, debilitating illness, it’s difficult to appreciate what I consider to be a truly heroic effort to portray a hero. Each time cancer takes someone young or inspirational, I’m reminded I need to embrace more of the remaining life I’ve been given to live. This death cut me to the core. I’ve so much left to do.
I remember when the Black Panther movie came out and so many people of all races and lifestyles came out of the theaters crossing their arms in the “Wakanda forever!” sign. People of color walked out of that movie changed and inspired. Young black children finally had a Marvel superhero on screen that looked like them, that they could identify with. Someone strong, caring, extraordinary and human.
I was also inspired by the Black Panther. The strong women of Wakanda, who were in charge of the technology and protecting the King, made me cheer. These depictions of strong, intelligent women (of any color) shouldn’t be so few and far between, but they are. Shuri is the smartest in the room. Any room. Okoye and her crew could kick any man’s ass. Nakia is brave, and convinces the King that sharing their knowledge and wealth for the good of all is an important enough idea to allow it to stand between her and her relationship with the King.
Heroes don’t have to be the same color as you are to be inspirational, but I’m white and I have plenty to choose from if that is what I seek. It was about time that people of color had an extraordinary hero and a slew of capable, ass-kicking heroines. I can only hope another hero can rise on the shoulders of Chadwick Boseman.
What I hope people learn from Boseman’s short, but well-lived, life is that people can be heroes both on and offscreen and be an inspiration beyond what they intended or hoped for. Heroism and quality of character goes more than skin deep, and that is one of the legacies that Boseman left behind for all of us.
Rest in Power, King.