Fans and members of the entertainment industry are still reeling from the shocking death of Chadwick Boseman. On Aug. 28 it was announced that the actor had died from colon cancer, after privately receiving treatment for the illness for several years. Boseman, one of Hollywood’s brightest stars, had recently become a major cultural figure on-screen and off, due to his role in 2018’s blockbuster film Black Panther.
The public outpouring of grief goes deeper than just Boseman’s talent as an actor or the high-profile role he was cast for. While his accomplishments on-screen are impressive in their own right, Boseman was an important cultural figure because of what he represented for the Black American community; he was a visionary that refused to compromise on his morals or what he believed in.
His success inspired Black Americans to believe that they could strive for more and proved that they are capable of achieving goals that were unattainable for a large part of their history in this country.
Boseman refused to compromise on his morals for success
One of the primary reasons Boseman was—and will remain—a cultural icon in the Black community and beyond was due to his unwillingness to compromise on his morals and beliefs about what he represented. He understood the enormous responsibility that came with being a Black man in the public eye, as well as the importance of how Black men are portrayed in the media.
Early in his career, Boseman was cast as Reggie Montgomery, a character from the hit soap opera All My Children. At the time it was a major opportunity for him, but after only a week of working on the show, he was fired due to his complaints about the racist Black stereotypes the show portrayed. In an interview with The Wrap, Boseman explained the dilemma he faced when he received the role: “I remember going home and thinking, ‘Do I say something to them about this? Do I just do it?’ And I couldn’t just do it,” Boseman said. “I had to voice my opinions and put my stamp on it.”
Although Boseman knew that speaking up for his beliefs would likely cost him an opportunity to progress in his career, he still chose to stand behind what he believed in. He understood that changing the outdated perceptions of Black people in America was more important than his individual success.
Boseman broke the mold for Black actors in Hollywood
After being cast as the lead role of King T’Challa in Marvel’s Black Panther, Boseman made another major stride for the Black community. Until that point, there were few Hollywood franchises featuring a Black male lead, and even fewer that were backed by a predominantly Black cast.
Boseman’s performance in Black Panther helped the film to become one of the most successful films of 2018, grossing over $1.3 billion, according to Box Office Mojo and earning nominations for several Academy Awards. Black Panther’s success not only solidified Boseman as a superstar, but it also re-enforced to the world that Black actors have just as much talent, profile, and bankability as white actors. Furthermore, it showed the Black community that they can reach the same heights as their non-Black contemporaries, professionally, and beyond.
Chadwick Boseman will be missed immensely, but not for his performances on-screen; he will be missed because he represented an entire culture with class, bravery, and honor.
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