“Is this your king?”
Stick a pin in that, I’ll get back to it.
During the promotional tour for BLACK PANTHER, Chadwick Boseman was asked if he had directly experienced the social impact of the film, and did it affect how he approached the role. At this point in his life, Boseman had already been diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer and was privately undergoing surgeries and chemotherapy to combat it. Without revealing that, here’s how he answered the question…
“There are 2 little kids–Ian and Taylor–who recently passed from cancer. And, throughout our filming, I was communicating with them, knowing that they were both terminal. What they said to me, and their parents, is they’re trying to hold on till this movie comes. To a certain degree, you hear them say that and you’re like: ‘Whew. Wow. I’ve got to get up and go to the gym. I’ve got to get up and go to work. I’ve got to learn these lines. I’ve got to work on this accent.’
“To a certain degree, it’s a humbling experience because you’re like ‘This can’t mean that much to them.’ But, seeing how the world has taken this on, seeing how the movement, how it’s taken a life of its own, I realized that they anticipated something great. I think back now to [being] a kid and just waiting for Christmas to come, waiting for my birthday to come, waiting for a toy that I was going to get a chance to experience, or a video game…I did live life waiting for those moments. So, it put me back in the mind of being a kid, just to experience those 2 little boys’ anticipation of this movie. And, when I found out that they…”
Boseman suddenly seemed to feel the full weight of the experience and was unable to continue, because the end of that remembrance is that Ian and Taylor were unable to hold on until the film’s completion. They, despite this relationship they had built, passed away before BLACK PANTHER was finished. Boseman breaks down in tears and eventually he had to excuse himself from the discussion, leaving his cast mates and director to finish up that particular part of the junket.
But the clip, which I posted below is powerful because that man and that vulnerability is an insight into who Chadwick Boseman was. It’s an openness that was rare for him, but it was also very telling about the man’s conviction to carry on. And through this story and countless visits to other children like Ian and Taylor Boseman never let on that there was a deeper meaning to him, a need to not only fight for his own life, but to also be there to comfort the generations that would follow him.
If you watch the man behind the roles, Chadwick Boseman comes across as a man of purpose, passion and conviction. He lived his life unlike most entertainers with a certain sense of obligation and responsibility to not just achieve but to exceed expectations, to create and portray characters on the shoulders of those that sacrificed and fought the battles on the behalf of future generations like his who would pick up the torch and carry it. During an address at Howard University in 2018 as their commencement keynote speaker, Boseman recalled how he, as a student at Howard at the time, had encountered The Greatest – Muhammad Ali as he was crossing a courtyard. Ali who was in the last years of his life, but still every bit of the man and legend he was, locked in on Boseman and assumed a sparring stance. For a few moments Boseman had the unique honor of trading a couple of light jabs with The Champ before Ali’s security and assistants moved the legend along to whatever point in history they were headed to next. Boseman recalled that he left “floating like a butterfly”. For Boseman, the encounter was one he told the students he would have to draw upon later.
He spoke to them of how he was impacted by teachers and actors and the unique chances and opportunities he got as he was raised on the shoulders of those that came before him. How he left Howard and found almost immediate success landing roles and rapidly climbing to his first real TV acting job on a soap opera he doesn’t name where he found himself cast as a character some would say was stereotypical: A young, but angry, man who is directionless but eventually attracted to a gang and their lifestyle. Boseman relates how he was “troubled” about the part and, after a couple of episodes in the can, was invited up as he was filming the third one by the producers who wanted to share their satisfaction with his work and put forth the offer to let them know if there was any concerns or needs on his part because they were looking for a long run with him. So he questioned some of the motivations of his character by asking for background info. The first question was where was the character’s father?
By the time he’d gotten to the second question dealing with why was the character’s mother deemed unfit which led to his character and the character’s brother going into foster care, they were re-reading his resume like they’d missed something. The meeting ended amicably enough, he went back on set and finished shooting for the day…
…and he was let go the following day.
He used his own doubts and questions of that event and how the reality of losing that job gave him a reputation as “difficult to work with”. I’ve been there myself. I’ve got a doozy of a story about my first graphics job which lasted about 14 hours total. So I get exactly how he must’ve felt.
What I enjoyed about watching that address is the appreciation he got eventually for standing by his convictions and questioning the role despite the outcome. Given the people he went on to play and the heights of his career, he made what would become a solid call. What brought him back to himself was his encounter with Ali. The few moments The Champ had called upon his past to recall the fighter he always was even in fun in those few glancing jabs. What he concluded was that in a sense Ali was giving him a gift – a transference of the fighter’s spirit that Ali called upon so often in victory and defeat to face impossible odds and rise above in victory or fall in defeat with the promise to not quit and get back on your feet so you can get back in the fight. If you take time for it, the address is an inspiring half hour and delivered with a sense of awareness, passion and urgency to be up and doing. To not just represent, but also respond.
And if you find another two or three minutes, as I did, check out Boseman’s tribute to Denzel Washington at the latter’s API Lifetime Achievement Award celebration. Boseman’s being in awe of Denzel along with the gratitude given to one of the greatest actors of his generation by his direct contribution to Boseman’s Howard and acting experience that allowed him to study and act in Britain. His praise and earnest appreciation moved a usually stoic Denzel to tears and a standing ovation that you could see was genuine because he was blown away by Boseman’s sincerity as he said there would be no BLACK PANTHER if it wasn’t for Denzel responding to the call to raise the next generation.
People often look at folks who lionize the passing of an entertainer saying they do not rate the level of attention given them. That it’s celebrity worshipping and shouldn’t be voiced or encouraged. In some cases that is generally true. You mark their passing say it’s a shame and move on.
But Chadwick Boseman isn’t one of those. Go look at his body of work, the icons he played, the roles where he would not allow content to be compromised for fame’s sake. For embodying all of the lessons learned at Howard, the values from his upbringing in his family, his humility gained through failure and success, his respect for the past, his passion for the present, his responsibility to the future, and a sense of urgency bought about by knowing his time was short so his actions had to matter.
“Is this your king?”
You better believe he was.
And, in a very real sense, always will be simply because he was trying to be the best man he could be. We could learn a lot from his example.
“Everybody is the hero in their own story. You should be the hero in your own story.”
And that’s who Chadwick Boseman was at the end of the day: the hero of his own story.
And for a time or two, he even saved the world to boot.
While it was sudden to us, it was his time. I hope he finds the veldt King T’Challa spoke of when he said…
“In my culture, death is not the end. It’s more of a stepping off point. You reach out with both hands and Bast and Sekhmet, they lead you into the green veldt where you can run forever.”
He will be missed for much more than BLACK PANTHER, but he leaves behind a brief but impressive legacy.
And consider it a stepping off point to pick up the torch and carry it forward.
And I wish him a Peaceful Journey.
And the clips I mentioned above can be found below…
Be good to yourselves and each other.