This past weekend as most of us celebrated the fading days of the strange season that has been Summer 2020, friends and family gathered to honor the life and memory of actor Chadwick Boseman, who passed away at the end of August.
In my interviews, I often ask how my guests would like to be remembered. Sometimes I feel like my guests struggle with the question, but I have a sense that Boseman would not have struggled with it in the least!
I think he would have handled it beautifully because he seemed to live his life with such fullness and richness. Every role, every interview seems imbued with such a sense of presence, as if Boseman was so fully present at the moment that he did not miss a scintilla of its meaning and beauty, and he was reflecting that meaning and beauty back to the world.
It takes moxie to live with such purpose, and Chadwick Boseman had it. Here’s how:
Moxie is a link in a chain
Even as a young man growing up in Anderson, S.C., greatness seemed to be stalking Chadwick Boseman. He attended T.L. Hanna High School, made famous by the movie Radio. He wrote and directed his first play while a student there, about a classmate who was shot and killed.
It’s no surprise that such a gifted young man would end up matriculating at Howard University, one of the most prestigious HBCUs in the country. At Howard, Phylicia Rashad took him under her wing and even called in a favor from a famous friend — Denzel Washington — when Boseman was accepted to the British American Dramatic Academy at Oxford but couldn’t pay the tuition. Washington paid Boseman’s way, even though they wouldn’t meet until years later.
In 2019, Boseman had the opportunity to express his appreciation when Washington was honored with the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Boseman told a teary-eyed Washington that “An offering from a sage and a king is more than silver and gold. It is a seed of hope, a bud of faith. There is no Black Panther without Denzel Washington … but my whole cast — that generation — stands on your shoulders.”
Boseman recognized and honored those who went before him. That takes moxie.
Moxie takes on icons
In the all-too-short time, the world had the opportunity to enjoy his considerable talent, Boseman portrayed some of the most iconic people of the 21st century. He played Jackie Robinson in 42, James Brown in Get on Up, and Thurgood Marshall in Marshall. He even went on to play a mythical Marvel Comics super-hero named Black Panther.
He may not have set out to portray some of the most iconic figures of the 21st century, but he was so specially gifted for the task that the roles just seemed to find him.
“It’s not like I’m necessarily looking for important Black figures,” he said in a 2017 interview. “Like James Brown, it just kept calling to me at a certain point when I was saying no; it was like James Brown was calling me himself. And Jackie Robinson, there was no way in the world I wasn’t going to do that.”
And these roles seemed to prepare him to take on what would arguably become the most important role of his career: King T’Challa.
Moxie makes icons
Boseman understood the full weight of his role as King T’Challa in the Black Panther. He understood what it meant to create an entire world in the Marvel Universe, a world led and populated by people of color. He and his castmates and director Ryan Coogler and a host of others literally carved out space for themselves and for others to follow.
“To be young, gifted, and Black,” he said as he accepted an award from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) in 2019. “We all know what it’s like to be told that there is not a place for you to be featured. Yet you are young, gifted, and Black. We know what it’s like to be told there’s not a screen for you to be featured on, a stage for you to be featured on. We know what it’s like to be the tail and not the head. We know what it’s like to be beneath and not above.”
Black Panther centered a Black world and Black characters in a powerful way. That takes moxie, and we’re all the better for having witnessed it.
I, like so many other fans of the Marvel Universe and Black Panther, in particular, looked so forward to seeing Boseman reprise the role and bring his regal presence to the silver screen once again. From all reports, despite his secret years-long battle with colon cancer, Boseman fully expected to reprise the role, too. Now there’s debate over whether or not anyone should even attempt to fill his shoes and bring the character back to life.
Whether or not that happens, Boseman reminds us that there’s an entire world of young, gifted, and Black artists out there, gifted and fully prepared to tell powerful stories that need to be told. His moxie will live on in each of them.
CHADWICK BOSEMAN’S WIKIPEDIA PAGE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chadwick_Boseman
BLACK PANTHER’S (2018 Movie) WIKIPEDIA PAGE: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Panther_(film)