By Isha Vibhakar, Second Year, Theatre and Film
What started off as a trend of greeting my siblings -read: fellow Marvel fans- from back home with the Wakandan salute, now seems to manifest as a trademark Chadwick Boseman gesture that the world has taken up to pay homage to the late actor.
The fact that Boseman’s on-screen roles ran parallel and masked -quite literally- his ongoing yet silent battle against colon cancer, essentially reinstates the superhero title ‘Black Panther’ conferred upon him. However, straying from his breakout Marvel character, the actor has made a footprint in the film industry by essaying iconic African-American historical figures and proudly representing the black community. Outlined below are three of his films that showcase Boseman’s versatility and his cultural impact.
42 tells the story of how Jackie Robinson, an African-American man, became the very first black baseball player in the late 1940s by crossing the colour barrier. It shows how to confront racism with dignity and the perseverance to strive for a place that societal conventions dictate otherwise. Boseman’s character arc from a raging baseball player to that of quiet suffering is effortless and empowering. Themes like racial oppression and segregation are explored throughout the film, but the relentless and won’t-settle-for-less attitude of Robinson set an example for the future baseball players. This includes Ed Charles, who goes on to be a major league baseball player.
Get on Up (2014)
Following a non-linear narrative, accompanied by the breaks in the fourth wall, this biographical musical can be touted as one of Boseman’s powerhouse performances as it realizes his full potential. As yet another African-American figure in pop culture, but this time ‘The Godfather of Soul’ James Brown, Boseman traverses through various hair and character transformations. One of my favourite moments in the film is Brown’s interaction with his manager Ben Bart, discussing how to go about promoting the show where Bart gives him an example of American baseball and Boseman subtly breaks the fourth wall suggesting the reference to his earlier film 42. Playing such an influential figure in pop culture, Boseman cemented himself as an iconic actor and role model for black youth.
Black Panther (2018)
In a refreshingly welcome change from many representations of blackness, Black Panther is set in an Afrofuturistic nation, Wakanda, which is devoid of any imperialistic tracings and undertakings. This film celebrates black culture and history by retaining the essence of African ancestry through costume, language and tradition. From challenging stereotypes by donning a suit built by the latest technology (designed by a teenage girl!) to maintaining the African accent, this film boasts of African heritage and proves how the Black Panther’s nationality is a site of power and privilege, not despite of it but because of it.
In an interview, Boseman explained that, 'a European education and accent would not fit Black Pather because Wakanda is supposed to be the most technologically advanced nation on the planet,' thereby not requiring a white savior; they’re capable of waging their own liberation. Even when Iron Man hurls his low-key bigoted mindset at Black Panther by saying 'are you going to go "medieval" on me, T’Challa?' he later pays for this assumption when Black Panther is proven to be more than a match for him, portraying how Black Panther’s African representation allows for misconceptions to the world but as a strategic advantage to him.
Boseman’s other works that require honorary mention include Marshall (2017), 21 Bridges (2019), Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods (2020). His last film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020) will release posthumously on Netflix. For me, it will always be his grand entrance in Avengers: Endgame (2019) to remember: when Black Panther arrives, we know we have already won the battle. As Boseman states himself in Black Panther, “death is not the end”. It’s more of a stepping off point.
Featured: IMDb, Warner Bros. Pictures / Legendary Pictures Productions, LLC. (2013)
Chadwick Boseman died on the 29th August, 2020, surrounded by his family. 'It was the honour of his career to bring King T'Challa to life in Black Panther'