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Chadwick Boseman: Virtuoso, actor, movie star, culture hero

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Film star Chadwick Aaron Boseman, known most prominently for his role as the superhero Black Panther in the 2018 Marvel Cinematic Universe film, which made him an international star, was tragically taken from this life Aug. 28, 2020.  

Boseman was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, which eventually progressed to stage IV before 2020. He had never spoken publicly about his cancer diagnosis. During treatment, involving multiple surgeries and chemotherapy, he continued to work and completed production for several films, including Marshall, Da 5 Bloods, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, and others. 

Boseman died at his home as a result of complications related to colon cancer on Aug. 28, 2020, with his wife and family by his side.

Chadwick Boseman’s early life

Boseman was born and raised in Anderson, SC to Carolyn and Leroy Boseman. His mother was a nurse and his father worked at a textile factory, managing an upholstery business as well. According to Boseman, DNA testing indicated that some of his ancestors were Krio people from Sierra LeoneYoruba people from Nigeria and Limba people from Sierra Leone.

Boseman graduated from T. L. Hanna High School in 1995, where, in his junior year, he wrote his first play, Crossroads, and staged it at the school after a classmate was shot and killed. Boseman attended college at Howard University in Washington, D.C., graduating in 2000 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in directing. One of his instructors was Phylicia Rashad, who became a mentor. She helped raise funds, notably from her friend and prominent actor Denzel Washington, so that Boseman and some classmates could attend the Oxford Mid-Summer Program of the British American Drama Academy in London, to which they had been accepted.

Boseman wanted to write and direct, and initially began studying acting to learn how to relate to actors. Returning to the US, he went on to graduate from New York City’s Digital Film Academy.

The entertainer lived in Brooklyn at the beginning of his career and worked as the drama instructor in the Schomburg Junior Scholars Program, housed at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York. In 2008, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.

Boseman got his first television role in 2003, in an episode of Third Watch. That same year, Boseman portrayed Reggie Montgomery in the daytime soap opera All My Children, but stated that he was fired after voicing concerns to producers about racist stereotypes in the script; the role was subsequently re-cast, with Boseman’s future Black Panther co-star Michael B. Jordan assuming the role. His early work included episodes of the series Law & OrderCSI: NY, and ER.  He also continued to write plays, with his script for Deep Azure performed at the Congo Square Theatre Company in Chicago; it was nominated for a 2006 Joseph Jefferson Award for New Work.  In 2008, he played a recurring role on the television series Lincoln Heights and appeared in his first feature film, 

The Express: The Ernie Davis Story.  He landed a regular role in 2010 in another television series, 

Persons Unknown.

Boseman had his first starring role in the 2013 film 42, in which he portrayed baseball pioneer and star Jackie Robinson.  He had been directing an off-Broadway play in East Village when he auditioned for the role, and was considering giving up acting and pursuing directing full-time at the time. About 25 other actors had been seriously considered for the role, but director Brian Helgeland liked Boseman’s bravery and cast him after he had auditioned twice. Robinson's widow, Rachel Robinson commented that Boseman’s performance was like seeing Jackie again. 

In 2013, Boseman also starred in the Indie film The Kill Hole, which was released in theaters a few weeks before the film 42.

In 2014, Boseman appeared opposite Kevin Costner in Draft Day, in which he played an NFL draft prospect.  Later that year, he starred as James Brown in Get on Up, doing some singing and all of his own dancing.  In 2016, he starred as Thoth, a deity from Egyptian mythology, in Gods of Egypt.

In 2016, he began portraying the Marvel Comics character T'Challa / Black Panther, with Captain America: Civil War being his first film in a five-picture deal with Marvel. He headlined Black Panther in 2018, which focused on the character and his home country of Wakanda in Africa. The film opened to great anticipation, becoming one of the highest-grossing films of the year in the US. He reprised the role in both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, which were released in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Both films were the highest grossing of the year they were released, with Endgame going on to become the highest-grossing film of all time. Also in 2019, he starred in 21 Bridges, an American action thriller film directed by Brian Kirk, as an NYPD detective who shuts down the eponymous 21 bridges of Manhattan to find two suspected cop killers.

In 2019, it was announced that Boseman was cast in the Netflix war drama film Da 5 Bloods, directed by Spike Lee. The film was released on June 12, 2020.  Lee, in choosing Boseman for the divine like character of “Stormin” Norman said, “This character is heroic; he’s a superhero. Who do we cast? We cast Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall, and we cast T’Challa.”

Reviews

According to film critic Owen Gleiberman in Variety, “Boseman was a virtuoso actor who had the rare ability to create a character from the outside in and the inside out [and he] knew how to fuse with a role, etching it in three dimensions [...] That’s what made him an artist, and a movie star, too. Yet in Black Panther, he also became that rare thing, a culture hero.” Similarly, reviewer Richard Brody in The New Yorker finds the originality of Boseman's formidable acting technique in his ability to empathize with the interior lives of his characters and render them on screen as fully and completely belonging to the character. The Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw wrote of the actor’s “beauty, his grace, his style, his presence [...] These made up Chadwick Boseman’s persona [and he became] the lost prince of American cinema[,] glorious and inspirational".

Personal life

Boseman began dating singer Taylor Simone Ledward in 2015. The two reportedly got engaged by October 2019, and they later married in secret, as revealed by Boseman’s family in a statement announcing his death.

Boseman was raised a Christian and was baptized. He was part of a church choir and youth group and his former pastor said that he still kept his faith. Boseman had stated that he prayed to be the Black Panther before he was cast as the titular character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In his last tweet on Aug. 12, he congratulated Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris on her nomination.

Wikipedia contributed to this report.

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