Remembering Chadwick Boseman

Actor Chadwick Boseman

Famous for bringing history to life with roles portraying iconic African Americans, Boseman had the gifts and the drive that would take him from the halls of Howard University in Washington, D.C., and the British American Drama Academy in London to movie screens around the world.

A native of Anderson, S.C., the son of a textile worker and a nurse, Boseman graduated from Howard University in 2000 where he studied under celebrated actor and Howard graduate Phylicia Rashad. He made film history portraying many of America’s history makers—from major league baseball great Jackie Robinson to soul singer James Brown. But he found stardom with his role as T’Challa in Marvel’s "Black Panther," adding important representation to the Marvel Universe and the superhero film genre.

His four-year battle with cancer is a testament to how much of a superhero he truly was. Boseman filmed major Hollywood productions between cancer treatments and doctors’ visits. Boseman’s final film, an adaptation of playwright August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama.

“Chadwick Boseman had wide-ranging gifts, an uncanny ability to hit us hard in many different types of roles,” said Rhea L. Combs, former curator of photography and film at the museum. “We all fell in love with him as T’Challa in Marvel’s Black Panther. He dazzled us in "Get on Up" as the dynamic James Brown. Marshall allowed him to play fellow Howard University graduate and first African American Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and we were moved by the power of that searing civil rights story.”

In April 2022, the museum displayed Jackie Robinson’s baseball jersey to commemorate the historic moment of Major League Baseball integrating 75 years ago. Robinson also played a role in the eventual integration of the military when he actively joined the “Double V” campaign, through which African American soldiers were fighting for freedom abroad and against racism at home.

In 2018, the museum acquired several objects from the record-breaking film Black Panther, including the Black Panther costume, the cover page and two pages of shooting script and 24 high-resolution production photographs. Boseman wore the costume in the “Captain America: Civil War” and Black Panther movies.

Boseman died before filming started on the sequel, “Wakanda Forever,” in which the hidden African nation mourns the loss of their king and battles outside forces.

Black Panther is the first superhero of African descent to appear in mainstream American comics, and the film itself is the first major cinematic production based on the character. Black Panther illustrates the progression of blacks in film, an industry that in the past has overlooked blacks, or regulated them to flat, one-dimensional and marginalized figures. The film, like the museum, provides a fuller story of black culture and identity.

Reflections about the meaning and impact of Black Panther will be included in Afrofuturism: A History of Black Futures, an exhibition opening in March 2023. This exhibition will explore Afrofuturism’s historic and poignant engagement with African American intellectual history and popular culture.

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