What a shock yesterday to learn of the death of actor Chad Boseman! I don’t recall seeing any account of his four-year struggle against colon cancer. True to his screen persona, the actor apparently preferred to wage his battle away from the public spotlight. But what a legacy he has left, one that we can turn to anytime we have access to a DVD player or streaming film device.
The loss of such a fine actor is felt most of all in the Black community because of his deep awareness of the place of African American artists in a Hollywood that once forced them into stereotyped servile roles.
Earlier, during the release of his Jackie Robinson film 42, he had said, “You don’t have the same exact experience as a Black actor as you do as a white actor. You don’t have the same opportunities. That’s evident and true. The best way to put it is: How often do you see a movie about a black hero who has a love story … he has a spirituality. He has an intellect. It’s weird to say it, but it doesn’t happen that often.” But it did happen with Black Panther, the global box office hit, and the only Marvel Studios film to win a Best Picture Oscar nomination.
We have covered his major pictures in VP, beginning in 2014 with 42. Starring opposite blockbuster star Harrison Ford (who played Branch Rickey), Mr. Boseman beautifully captured the dignity and restraint that made Jackie Robinson the great person that he was.
What a different role he tackled a year later in Get On Up, the story of “The Godfather of Soul,” James Brown! We saw in this “warts and all” film about the musician what a versatile actor Boseman was.
Although his character T’Challa was introduced in the Marvel film Captain America: Civil War, it wasn’t until Black Panther was released in 2018 that the majesty of his character and of the mythical African kingdom of Wakanda was revealed. And how audiences did respond to its affirmation that Black is not only “Beautiful,” but also “Great”–the film took in more than $1.3 billion at the box office, impacting also the world of fashion.
In between the two Marvel movies, Mr. Boseman played Civil Rights icon Thurgood Marshall in Marshall (2017). We see him as the hero of the law court rather than of the battlefield, at the start of his career, long before his appointment to the Supreme Court.
Spike Lee gave him a little more time in the flashbacks of Da Five Bloods in which he played the squad leader Stormin’ Norman whose life and death impacted the four main characters returning to Vietnam several decades later to find and bring back his body. His Norman was a great role, a man totally aware of the government’s exploitation of young Black males for Vietnam War cannon fodder–and he made the most of it.
I was happy to learn that the camera work has been completed for what will be his last film, an adaptation of August Wilson’s play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. I can scarcely wait to see it when it is released this year! This at least, during this period of mourning for the fine actor, is something for which we can be thankful.
Click onto the highlighted titles to read my reviews of the films. The last title will take you to the IDMB page about the film, which is now in post-production.