Chadwick Boseman’s legacy continues to live on after a recent historic win. The Howard University alumnus posthumously won an Emmy for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance for his role in What If…? during the recent Creative Arts Emmy Awards over the Labor Day weekend. However, the important accomplishment amid Emmys season has left us reflecting on just how much of a gem he really was.
Although Chadwick Boseman tragically passed from colon cancer in August 2020, his life’s hard work has created a lasting legacy. Just late last month, it was revealed that he would be among several Disney Legends selected for their immeasurable impact across The Walt Disney Company’s brands. Along with Boseman, other awardees like fellow Howard alumnus Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Idina Menzel, and Patrick Dempsey were honored at this weekend’s D23 Expo near Disneyland in California.
As he was honored in the D23 opening ceremony Saturday, his brother Derrick Boseman accepted the honor on behalf of the Boseman family. “Chad was an amazing person,” he said. “Plato is credited with coining the phrase that ‘art imitates life.’ But Oscar Wilde came behind him and said, ‘Life imitates art.’ And in Chad’s case, it seems that life is imitating art. If we pay attention in this thing called storytelling, a story is being told to us all…” His words tell a larger story for the impression that Boseman left and how it continues to inspire us all.
During his career, Boseman made waves with exemplary performances of Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, James Brown and more. But Perhaps Boseman’s most iconic work was in his roles as T’Challa, also known as the Black Panther. He held the landmark Marvel Cinematic Universe roles across several films and other projects, with the What If…? series sadly being the last. By embodying the regalness of an African warrior, he breathed life into a character that the world had never seen before. As Wakandan legend has it, T’Challa inherited the throne from his aging father, former King T’Chaka. In order to protect the people of Wakanda and the land’s precious vibranium, T’Challa followed his legacy by becoming the stealthy Black Panther.
Leading up to his role on What If…?, Boseman first filled the iconic roles of T’Challa and the Black Panther in 2016’s Captain America: The Civil War, which also featured Marvel Superheroes like Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), and Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson). That film was of course followed up by 2018’s blockbuster Black Panther, which broke box office records and became one of the highest grossing MCU films, currently sitting at over $1.3 Billion. Avengers: Infinity War was released that same year, and finally, Avengers: End Game premiered in 2019. Throughout each of those films, the Black Panther fought alongside other super heros, hardly escaping an untimely demise.
With What If…?, however, the events in those films were able to be ceremoniously flipped and reversed across nine episodes. Led by head writer A.C. Bradley and directed by Bryan Andrews, the 2021 Disney Plus anthology series was created to turn everything fans thought they knew about the MCU on its head. As Marvel Studios’ first animated series, the project spotlighted different MCU heroes and hypothesized how things would be different in scenarios unheard of for these franchises. For example, episodes included: “What If… Captain Carter Were The First Avenger?” in episode one; “What If… Zombies?! in episode five; and “What If…Thor Were an Only Child?” in episode seven. Viewers could expect appearances from heros like Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in the show.
Boseman himself was featured as a voice actor in a total of four episodes, including “What If… T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?” in episode two, and “What If…Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?” in episode six. Unfortunately, by the time the series had aired, Boseman had sadly passed away. As an unprecedented tribute, episode six actually featured an emotionally gripping funeral for T’Challa that prompted a social media blitz.
“[Chadwick] really enjoyed the idea of being able to play this slightly different version of T’Challa,” Bryan Andrews shared with The Hollywood Reporter. “The events are so extremely different, but the galaxy doesn’t change T’Challa; T’Challa changes the galaxy. There are a few more times where he pops up briefly in a couple other episodes, so we were able to record with him a little bit during the pandemic. Those records were over Zoom calls, and in the last record, when we were done, I, selfishly, was able to tell him how much I personally thought of him… He touched his heart and he was very thankful, but we had no idea he was going through what he was going through.”
At the Creative Arts Emmys ceremony, Boseman’s widow, Taylor Simone Ledward, was present to accept her late husband’s well-deserved award. “Chad would be so honored, and I’m honored on his behalf,” said Ledward according to The Hollywood Reporter. “When I learned that Chad was nominated for this award, I started thinking about everything that was going on when he was recording — everything that was going on in the world and in our world and just being in such awe of his commitment and his dedication,” she reflected.
The Howard alumnus’ work on What If…? was something that was particularly meaningful for her, in more ways than one. “What a beautifully aligned moment it really is that one of the last things he would work on would not only be revisiting a character that was so important to him and his career and to the world, but also that it be an exploration of something new, diving into a new potential future,” she said. “You can’t understand your purpose unless you’re willing to ask, ‘What if’ unless you’re willing to say, ‘What if the universe is conspiring in my favor, what if it’s me?’”
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