Over the weekend we should have celebrated Chadwick Boseman’s 44th birthday. It probably would have been mostly unremarkable and easily missed. There would have been a trending hashtag on Twitter, #HappyBdayBlackPanther #HBDChad. And Chris Evans or Mark Ruffalo or someone in the Marvel family would have had tweeted a sarcastic birthday wish mentioning Royalty or King. And we would have all moved on, after all 44 is extremely young.
Alas the world, and 2020, is a cruel place. While Mr. Boseman was celebrated, it was posthumously. Disney proved they might have a tiny fragment of their soul left by replacing the opening logo of Black Panther to one that honored Boseman as a form or remembrance. And there were plenty of tweets but they were marked with sadness and with reminders of the fragility of life.
I, for one, like to celebrate lives instead of mourn them. I believe living 43 years, becoming a successful actor, playing important historical figures like Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and Thurgood Marshall is miraculous. I can’t be sad about this man I never met, I only want to enjoy what he left behind.
To do so I decided to re-watch Black Panther. I am a BIG Black Panther guy, I will defend it to no end. I am typically one who voices displeasure over movies that are overhyped (Avengers: Endgame, The Dark Knight) but I truly believe Black Panther deserves every ounce of hype.
But before this weekend I had never watched it for Chadwick Boseman. I watched it the first time in theaters because I was in the height of my Marvel craze. I watched it the second time in theaters because I wanted to show my support for the black artists the best way I know how, money. The third time was to pay attention to Ryan Coogler’s directing after learning how young he was. Every time after that was probably because I was listening to the Kendrick Lamar soundtrack and it reminded me how good the film was. I never really focused on the man playing the titular role but could you blame me? This cast is filled to the brim with amazing performers, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, MICHAEL B. JORDAN, it’s truly remarkable.
When I finally started paying attention to the man behind the mask I was blown away. Boseman’s performance is balanced, calm, reassuring, and strong. Which is exactly what the role demands. T’Challa is the only superhero, that I know, that has to balance the weight of being a political leader while also physically protecting his people. Peter Parker meanwhile struggles to balance studying and petty thieves. T’Challa has to be political and well-liked. He needs to put his people first, balancing their traditions with their technological advances and with exposure to the harsh outside world. To a world that has proven to not welcome their kind.
T’Challa also has to deal with the death of his father and the king of Wakanda T’Chaka. Boseman displays T’Challa’s emotions beautifully when the character gets one last chance to say good-bye to T’Chaka on the Ancestral Plane: “I’m not ready to be without you.” T’Challa states to his father (a moment that hits the audience even harder in 2020) to which T’Chaka replies, “A man who has not prepared his children for his own death has failed as a father.” The raw emotion and vulnerability displayed by Boseman (and John Kani) in this scene alone makes the film stand above it’s Marvel counterpoints.
This role was more than your typical superhero role. Boseman had to not only had the handle the character with strength, vulnerability, and intelligence but he also had to balance the real world implications of the role. Namely the weight of being the first black superhero in the MCU and the pressure of leading a superstar cast. Somehow Boseman managed to accomplish it all.
That is something worth celebrating.