When Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman died of cancer at the age of 43 in August 2020, his death hit the Black community especially hard. It’s an understatement to say that Black Panther merely inspired Black people. But it might be difficult for those who are not Black to understand why the loss of a movie star we have never met is so hard for us. Here are four main reasons why this is so:
- In a world where many images of people of color are negative. Chadwick Boseman was a positive one, filled with dignity, character, and respect. That is why Black Panther was more than just a film for people of color; it was a movement. The movie inspired a generation much like the Rocky films did in their time. It was a moment where finally a hero that looks like us was portrayed in a major role. Even though it was a fantasy world, it was real enough for people of color. A place where African American people were not subjugated, not discriminated against, not racially profiled, but in complete control of their destiny. Black Panther awakened something in us, and Chadwick Boseman was the actor that embodied it. We suddenly had hope that dreams were possible. We believed again that strength comes from identity. We believed that we could be inspired and inspire others. Chadwick resurrected dreams of us changing the world from the ancestral plane.
- Boseman’s portrayal meant the world to our children. Something wonderful happened in their hearts. They felt the joy of having their own hero. In a world where the majority takes this for granted, it may not seem like much. When I was a child, many heroes were white, and something happens in the psyche of a Black child when all the heroes are not of their color. For example, until Obama was elected president, many people of color did not believe deep down that presidency was possible in a world where racial bias and prejudice stigmatized us before we could speak a word. After Black Panther came out, we could say to our children, “You can be anything you want to be, even a superhero.” Chadwick showed us that it is possible to make a difference. Themes of redemption, identity, resilience, and belonging are universal to the human experience. These showed up in his films and his life.
- The timing of his death, in the midst of a traumatic year of pandemic and racial unrest, made the loss go even deeper. With the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others, to lose Chadwick to cancer—on top of everything else—seemed like too much to bear.
- We mourn him because of who he was as a real person. Chadwick was a believer in Christ, so we will see him again. We will miss him for how he lived his life and what he represented symbolically: a strong Black man who used his power to help the ones around him. Diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer at the age of 39, he fought through four years and seven films while quietly undergoing treatments and never complaining. During his secret illness, he encouraged and visited children with cancer. He spoke at commencement ceremonies about integrity and the value of not taking stereotypical roles as a Black man. He used his platform to uplift a people group, to encourage, to bless and not curse, and to speak for those who do not have a voice.
We know someone like that. His name is Jesus. Chadwick believed in him. Chadwick followed him. Chadwick’s moral code was clearly influenced by him. Chadwick’s character came from Christ’s character. He took that holy character into every film, venue, red carpet, interview, tweet, and post.
The character of T’Challa, played by a real man with tremendous character, lifted us, and that is why we feel a devastating loss about Chadwick’s passing at such a young age. Yes, we know where he is going and do not grieve like those who have no hope. But part of us hopes that he can come back to life like he did in Black Panther and say, “As you can see, I am not dead!” We know that he will when Christ returns, but for now we miss him. We can’t help but look for the Infinity Stones so we can snap him back into existence here. We cannot find them, so we grieve. May God be with you, Chadwick, until we meet again.