There’s a saying, “you never know what struggles someone may be enduring.” Chadwick Boseman embodied the definition of that. He was the people’s champ, for the culture. Boseman came from humble beginnings at Howard University where he studied under Phylicia Rashad, to going onto portraying Howard graduates like Thurgood Marshall. Next, he would grace our hearts with performances as James Brown, Jackie Robinson, and eventually King T’Challa, the Black Panther.
The character T’Challa and the person Chadwick Boseman shared much more in common than we ever realized. Both of them were beloved in the hearts and minds of their people. Both fought internal battles the outside world did not know about. In the case of Chadwick Boseman, that battle was against colon cancer. He gave us so much of himself as an artist for the last seven years. As Black creatives, we all strive for our art to inspire people the way Chadwick Boseman did. Growing up in the 90’s we had very few Black superheroes. We had Spawn, Steel, Static Shock, and Jonathan Stewart. But none of these heroes had the same acclaim because they don’t really rub elbow with mainstream White American superheroes. Black Panther on the other hand does. As much as I love Static Shock, he has yet to be put into a movie at all, much less a great one.
I saw Black Panther three times in the movie theaters. The only other superhero movie I had done that with prior, was The Dark Knight with Heath Ledger as the Joker. Black Panther was the best superhero movie I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I finally felt seen. I saw the joy of my nieces and nephews feeling represented, seeing themselves on the big screen when the movie came out. I saw that joy double down when T’Challa made an appearance in some of The Avengers movies. It was the same joy I had from Spider-Man only, much more amplified (for obvious reasons). Many of us have to eventually tell children in our families that Santa Claus isn’t real. But how do you prepare to tell a Black child Black Panther died?
The last few years especially have been especially hard on Black Americans. Black Panther came out in the midst of the Trump administration, Kaepernick’s fight for justice, and the Black Lives Matter movement. It came out five months after the brutal civil war of a weekend in Charlottesville. This film in particular, while about representation, ended up being so much more for the community. It became medicine. Everyday we fear, “Will I be next?” This film gives us 134 minutes where we can escape those worries. It gives us a story where Black people not only matter, we save the world.
We started the year losing Kobe and Gigi Bryant, then Congressman John Lewis, Malik B of The Roots, and now Chadwick Boseman, and poet Randall Kenan. It’s like, can the Universe take a break on us for a second? Why are we one of the smallest demographics in this country, yet faced with so much trauma at once?
Chadwick Boseman gave us so much of himself, undergoing chemotherapy this whole time during these performances. To think some people actually made fun of his appearance… I hope they reflect on their choice to cyberbully him. My mother is a cancer survivor and my aunt, her sister, is not. I have seen up close how cancer can take anyone in an instant, even a superhero.
Chris L. Butler is an Afro-Dutch poet, essayist, and historian from Philadelphia, PA. His work has been featured in Versification, Perhappened, Trampset Magazine, Lucky Jefferson, Medium, and NewPages.