Friday night was one of the harder nights I've had in 2020, and that's saying something.
If you're a regular reader of this column, you know how much I value superhero movies. I remember the night I saw "Black Panther." I was in Fargo, visiting friends in college. A good friend of mine convinced me to see a movie on opening night for the first time, a concept I wasn't accustomed to at the time.
When I go to the theater, I like to be by myself. I feel like it's the only time I can truly disconnect from the outside world. But opening nights for Marvel Cinematic Universe movies are different. You are shoulder-to-shoulder with other fans. There's clapping, cheering and celebrating. It's not a movie, but rather an event. I was hooked. While this was my memory of seeing “Black Panther” for the first time, it’s very different and much less significant compared to what it meant for people of color.
The leading role in "Black Panther" is King T'Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman. He was set to be one of the main fixtures in the coming years for MCU. That was until he passed away after a four-year battle against colon cancer.
Outside of a small group of friends and family, nobody knew he had it. He died in his home next to his wife and family on Friday night. He lived the last four years of his life with an unfair illness as it slowly took his life away.
Over the last four years, he's filmed several movies in between treatments and chemotherapy. During that time, he made regular appearances in children's hospitals, charity events and other selfless endeavors without revealing his deadly secret. He didn't want to be remembered for what would inevitably kill him.
Growing up, I valued superheroes. Now that I'm 24 years old, I can see how easy it is for kids to see them as inspiring figures and role models. But until 2018, a superhero movie's leading role had yet to be played by a Black man.
What Boseman did by taking the role of the Black Panther was more than cutting a paycheck. For the first time in their lives, Black kids looked on the screen and saw a hero who looked like them. We are talking about an entire generation of kids, millions of them, feeling something they've never felt before. For Boseman to carry that torch is a burden that not many people have the ability to carry. You cannot put a price on that.
It wasn't just his role as King T'Challa that set him apart from other actors of this generation. He played Jackie Robinson in "42," Thurgood Marshall in "Marshall" and James Brown in "Get Up." Taking on these characters who have suffered real-life oppression and have paved the way for Black people to have a better life transcends movies. He doesn't just play a superhero; he is one.
Forty-three years is far too young for Boseman to be taken away from us. But cancer doesn't care how old you are. It doesn't care about what you do or what you've done. When you think you've beat it, it can still come back. Every family has been affected by cancer, and for that, I'm sorry. There are people fortunate enough to win their fight against cancer, and for that, I am thankful. I hope Boseman's family finds some sense of relief that he no longer has to live with the pain that he did for four years.
Boseman's legacy will live on long after his last breath. People will watch his movies and understand how he could encapsulate a more significant character than the film itself. People will watch the videos of him crying, talking about how much he appreciates Black children looking up to him like they never have before his movies.
Boseman was indeed a larger-than-life icon that left an unforgettable footprint on pop culture. He was bigger than the movies. Rest in peace and rest in power to a true king, Chadwick Boseman.