Saturday August 29, 2020
Chadwick Boseman (1977-2020)
I assumed he was going to play every historical Black figure ever. In a four-year stretch, from 2013 to 2017, he played Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Thurgood Marshall, and then topped it off by becoming the world's first Black superhero, T'Challa, the Black Panther. It was an African-American-written and -directed film, with a mostly African-American cast that was mostly set in Africa, and it shocked the world by blowing up at the box office. It opened with more than $200 million on opening weekend, unheard of for a February release, and kept rolling. It was seen as a prelude to the all-star “Avengers: Infinity War” but it did better than that one. It was the No. 1 box-office hit of the year and just the third film to break the $700 million domestic barrier—after “Avatar” and “Star Wars—the Force Awakens.” It broke through like nothing broke through.
That was just two years ago, believe it or not.
I got the news last night. He was trending on Twitter and at first the words didn't even make sense. There was something about Chadwick Boseman and something about someone who had died and ... Well, obviously not that Chadwick Boseman, because ... Wait, what? No. At 43? Covid-related? No. Colon cancer. After a four-year battle. He'd had it all through the Avengers/Black Panther run and still embodied that strength.
I knew so little about him. These lines from the New York Times obit:
A statement posted on his Instagram account said he learned in 2016 that he had Stage 3 colon cancer and that it had progressed to Stage 4. It said he died in his home with his wife and family by his side, though it did not say where he lived.
“A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all, and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much,” the statement said. “From 'Marshall' to 'Da 5 Bloods,' August Wilson's 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom' and several more, all were filmed during and between countless surgeries and chemotherapy.”
I thought he was younger. I would've assumed early to mid 30s. I thought we were going to have 40 more years of him.
I kept underestimating him. From the trailers to “42,” he seemed too passive to play the fiery Jackie but he wound up embodying that fire. Then I assumed he was too stolid to play the outre James Brown, but he nailed it. By the time he was as Thurgood Marshall, which my wife and I saw in a nearly empty theater on a weekday night, I was like “Just do 'em all, man, do 'em all.” And what weight he must have been carrying for every one of these roles. It's as if, in a four-year stretch, an Italian-American had Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra and Antonin Scalia. But no, even that, it's not close to his weight. Jackie was the first, Thurgood was the first. These were the first major biopics about them. It's not the same. Times it by four. To the power of two.
He had finished August Wilson's “Ma Rainey's Black Bottom” opposite Viola Davis. He was scheduled to play the title role in “Yasuke,” about a 16th-century samurai of African origin.