Nona Saharan

Managing Editor

Edward Simon Cruz

News Editor

Taylor Alphonso

Staff Writer

If Chadwick Boseman were still alive, he would have been able to relish his status as one of the greatest actors of our generation. When he left us last August, his short but prolific career was remarkable enough for us to remember him that way.

Much has already been said about Chadwick and the mark that he left on us all. It’s hard to pinpoint why this death, out of so many tragic ones this year, hurts the most. Maybe it was the fact that he was only forty-three. Maybe it was the realization that he was silently enduring a battle with colon cancer, all while earnestly embodying his characters onscreen. Maybe it was the knowledge that the characters whom he chose to embody were ones meant to empower and inspire his viewers. Our collective sadness from his death likely stems from all of those factors.

Most of us know Boseman as the remarkable hero from the bustling nation of Wakanda — a nation that, in itself, embraced Black excellence and accomplishment. But Boseman’s talent lay beyond the boundaries of a fictional, isolated African kingdom. Boseman brought real-life heroes like Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and Thurgood Marshall to the screen. More importantly, he refused to play a character laden with Black stereotypes, a decision that got him fired from one of his first roles; years later, he would reject a role that would have required him to play a slave. Boseman knew that he stepped into the shoes of a storyteller in every role that he played, and he took it upon himself to represent Black voices in various forms. He told the stories of Black characters and historical figures and allowed Black audiences everywhere to see themselves in the stories that they consumed.

Left to right: Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in 42, T’Challa in Black Panther, Levee in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and “Stormin’” Norman Earl Holloway in Da 5 Bloods. Source: ScreenRant.com

Boseman’s final role depicted the ambitious, arrogant trumpet player Levee in a film adaptation of August Wilson’s play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. As the young, charming, and ambitious Levee, Boseman delivered a chilling rendition of a young Black man plagued by the burdens of childhood trauma and societal racism as he struggles to navigate the jazz-blues era of the 1920s. Since its release in December of last year, the film has won numerous awards, many under Boseman’s name for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

Perhaps one of the most captivating performances in the film was near its end in Levee’s two-minute monologue, during which he rejects belief in a god that he believes to hate Black people:

“What I wants to know is if he’s a man of God, then where the hell was God when all of this was going on? Why wasn’t God looking out for him? Why didn’t God strike down them crackers with some of this lightning you talking about to me? ‘Cause he a White man’s god… Jesus don’t love you. Jesus hate yo’ Black ass.”

Unlike other characters that Boseman has portrayed, including Jackie Robinson and T’Challa, Levee does not become successful because of his ambitions; instead, he sabotages his own future. The struggle of Black artists attempting to “make it” in a world that frequently exploits them is a theme central to the world of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom that, although set in the roaring twenties, still parallels today’s society as we advance in amplifying Black voices and stories.

Boseman’s death struck us at a very specific moment in time amid ongoing tensions and inquisitions regarding the way that we view, treat, and represent members of the Black community and other communities of color. His relatively short career cannot be defined by one role but rather must be seen within the context of his greater purpose, something that he emphasized in his commencement speech at his alma mater, Howard University. When paying tribute to one of his inspirations, Denzel Washington, Boseman acknowledged steps taken in the last few decades, and especially the last few years, to provide more representation to people of color in America in politics, film, and other institutions alike. The roaring success of films like Black Panther is not only a result of these efforts, but also is a sign that we can embrace a culture that reflects our diversity, not just in the people we see but also in the stories we hear. Likewise, it is a reminder that efforts to maintain true diversity and inclusion, no matter what blows we suffer, must be consistent if we intend to keep it. 

Thus, continuing Boseman’s legacy does not end with the posthumous tributes and recognition that he’s received, including the Golden Globe that he won for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. To continue Chadwick Boseman’s legacy, we need to do as he said: “Press on with pride and press on with purpose.” He opened doors for more BIPOC artists and performers like him, showing them that with tenacity and devotion, we can tell the stories that represent our world and its many faces, and we can empower people to see what’s possible or even tell stories of their own. “Wakanda forever,” indeed.

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