Amber Bolden | Op Ed Contributor
“Please don’t let my death be about my death. Please don’t make no movies about my death. Please make my death about my life. If you make a movie ’bout my life, make it right”
-Chance the Rapper
Tweet announcing the Death of Black Panther Star Chadwick Boseman
— Chadwick Boseman (@chadwickboseman) August 29, 2020
I received the text message in a family chat last Friday evening saying, “Chadwick Boseman has passed.” Like everyone who was familiar with his work my heart sank and I think I felt the shift of a great spirit leaving us.
Chadwick Boseman brought so many historical figures and fictional characters to life for audiences around the world. He animated the stories of everyone from James Brown and Thurgood Marshall to Jackie Robinson and of course, King T’challa. It was his portrayal of Marvel’s Black Panther that has dominated the headlines as we remember his life.
I recall talking to my sister about it. She began telling me about a woman she heard on the radio commenting on Boseman’s death saying, ‘we lost our king.’ My sister went on to explain that Wakanda, Black Panther’s homeland, was like the Zamunda of Coming to America. She said that these places and figures represented a sense of place and belonging to the Black community.
They represented a place where the chains were off—where we could be safe, happy, and even royalty. While I totally understood her point, I couldn’t help but feel a little unsettled about the sense of sadness that seemed to plague the conversation.
As I reflected on her statements, I began to get emotional, even passionate. I’ve watched family members experience various types of cancer and other physical challenges. Seeing someone go through that process should make any human grateful and humble for every breath.
As we recently learned, Boseman was diagnosed with colon cancer four years ago. In that time, he continued to produce many of the films we’ve come to love including the action-packed Black Panther, and the Avengers movies.
I nearly had a visceral reaction as I thought about how difficult it must have been for him to put his body through that level of arduous activity and the mental fortitude it required for him to maintain it. These are not the actions that one can take without a deep sense of purpose.
Boseman was deeply private about his condition and to all accounts, a champion, and a fighter. Ryan Coogler, Director of Black Panther, said that even he didn’t know the details of Boseman’s condition. With that said, as everyone scours pictures of him through the years and we all try to employ our hindsight to see when the physical changes began to show, every image seems to show his spirit undeniably authentic and unchanged. He produced major blockbuster films while going through countless surgeries and chemotherapy. We were all witnesses to a real-life hero.
Reading Boseman’s social media timeline, it doesn’t take long to see he wasn’t trying to be a celebrity. Instead, he was constantly working to refine his artistry.
During his commencement speech at his alma mater, Howard University, Boseman described an experience when he was let go from a project after he began to question some of the stereotypical narratives around the character he was asked to play. In his response to this experience Boseman referenced a Bible scripture saying, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God kept growing it.” (1 Corinthians 3:6).
He remarked that perhaps the questions he asked set the producers on guard and created space for a less stereotypical role for the Black actor that stepped into the position after him.
In that same speech Boseman referred to seeing Muhammad Ali in his elder years on the yard of Howard University saying, “I realized something new about the greatness of Ali and how he carried his crown. I realized he was transferring something to me on that day. He was transferring the spirit of the fighter to me.” He referenced scripture again, from the book of Jeremiah saying “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Boseman closed the speech saying:
“You would rather find purpose, than a job or a career. Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.”
After really reflecting on this man’s life, there is no way I can allow myself to be a victim in my mind nor can I yield to a narrative of remorse, because he didn’t. We didn’t lose a king we gained an ancestor and a guiding light that encourages us to choose the road less traveled, to be relentless and to bring forth the world that is pounding on our hearts to be created.
Thank you, Chadwick, for sharing with us the fighting spirit Ali entrusted in you. We are facing a new era in our evolution. Thank you for showing us how to truly live with purpose. We will hold your memory safe and strong in our hearts as we do the work of building a new kingdom. -Selah and Amen
Amber Bolden grew up in Baltimore, Maryland and currently lives in San Bernardino County. She earned her B.A. in journalism from the University of Maryland College Park and her master’s degree in Public Policy from the University of California, Riverside.