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Elizabeth Wellington: Chadwick Boseman brought Black superheroes to life and died like one

By Elizabeth Wellington, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Fashion Daily News

We didn't know it when he was with us, but there was something magical about the late Chadwick Boseman.

We probably sensed it in Boseman's eerily true-to-life big-screen portrayals of American icons like the first Black Major League Baseball player, Jackie Robinson, or the first Black Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall.

We watched the magic of Boseman's acting unfold in the Marvel Universe's 2018 Academy Award-winning blockbuster, Black Panther. In the lead role, Boseman convinced the little kid in all of us that Vibranium was real and that Wakanda is forever. Most importantly as the Black Panther, King T'Challa, Boseman gave American children their first Black superhero in a major motion picture. Just like Christopher Reeves' Superman more than a generation ago, little children of all races wanted to be Boseman's Black Panther.

On Friday night, however, we learned Boseman's magic was the real deal. That was also when his social media accounts revealed that not only was the actor battling colon cancer for four years, Boseman, 43, had now died. That also meant that while he was filming the biggest superhero movie ever made, Boseman was in the midst of nothing short of a Herculean effort to save his own life.

That's why this loss hurts us so.

"Black Panther was a movement," said Ariell Johnson, the Black founder and owner of Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse in Kensington. Black Panther "was such a moment of Black beauty. In the midst of everything else going on, a little bit of Black boy joy has now died."

 

That's what was special about Boseman. He was the definition of the levity that is Black boy joy, but with a serious helping of Black man dignity. Boseman oozed self-confidence and self-assurance in a way that wasn't just unassuming, but humble. In an industry that doesn't respect the gravitas of what it means to be a Black man in America, Boseman commanded respect. He took roles that meant something to him. With the quiet dignity that defined the men of Robinson and Marshall's era, Boseman died on his own terms, leaving a legacy of art, not illness.

At times it seems Boseman was even prophetic. In 2016, his King T'Challa debuted in Marvel's Captain America: Civil War. And one of Boseman's first quotes as Black Panther was about death: "In my culture, death is not the end. It's more of a stepping-off point." I wonder if he knew of his illness then. I didn't know when I watched Civil War for the first time Friday night with my nephew that two hours later I'd learn of Boseman's passing.

Chadwick Aaron Boseman grew up in Anderson, South Carolina. He attended Howard University. Those who went to school with Boseman remembered a friendly guy with a unique sense of fashion.

"He was such a light," said Maori Karmael Holmes, founder of Philadelphia's BlackStar Film Festival, who attended Howard with Boseman. "Now we know that he was definitely crafting his legacy as an artist that was focused on how Black people - in particular, Black men - were represented on screen."

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