The death of Chadwick Boseman happened so unexpectedly that it felt like a rug was being pulled out from under all of us, only this rug is loaded with intense historical significance.
Although sudden to us, Boseman had been fighting colon cancer for several years, while starring in hit film after hit film including "Marshall," "Da 5 Bloods," and "Black Panther," between rounds of chemotherapy and several surgeries. Being such a significant figure while he was alive, it feels like a cruel twist of fate that he also died during such a historic period of time.
People are praising Boseman for fighting through such a horrible disease while still working in films, but we should also be praising his strength of being a Black man in the film industry at all. Until Boseman’s performance in "Black Panther," Black actors/actresses were hardly seen in superhero movies, and when they did appear, they were typically reduced into playing sidekicks or best friends.
This dates back to the original groundbreaking superhero movie, "Superman," which was produced in 1978. The only Black character was a pimp who had one line.
The superhero movie industry is especially important to understand because the highest-grossing films in the past few years have almost all been Marvel or DC movies, according to statistics on Box Office Mojo. In other words, these are the movies people are choosing to see.
Forty years later, Boseman broke down cultural norms and was the hero we all needed, a hero who represented years of oppression in a multi billion dollar industry. On top of this, he was also a symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Black Lives Matter movement advocates for non-violent civil disobedience in protest against incidents of police brutality and all racially motivated violence against Black people, according to its website. Boseman was a huge part of this movement before he died. He took a different stance in the movement, believing that in order to correct the future, it's crucial to understand the past and learn from history.
“Understanding our history is one of many ways to break the cycle of racial injustice in this country,” Boseman said in an Instagram post June 19.
Boseman believed that knowing our history is powerful and necessary to enact the needed change in our future. How can we as a society fight the racism that has been established in our country for hundreds of years, without understanding its origin? Sometimes we are so focused on creating change that we forget why we are fighting for it in the first place.
Boseman encouraged us to take a moment to understand and appreciate what it is we are fighting for and the future that could be. Rest in Power, King.