A Trailblazing Hero On and Off Screen
Chadwick Boseman was an impactful actor and proud Howard University alum, who made his mark in Hollywood by portraying legendary Black figures in his films. While playing real-life legends like Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall, and the fictional superhero, Black Panther, Boseman became a legend himself. He was the first Black superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, finally giving Black children everywhere a hero who looked like them to look up to. What he did for Black representation in media, all while remaining kind, graceful and humble, can never be replaced or duplicated.
When he passed away in August 2020 from a silent battle with colon cancer, it shocked and saddened the world but he left behind a legacy that continues to be honored. It was honoring his legacy that served as a driving force for director Ryan Coogler when creating the second installment of Black Panther, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” which comes to theaters November 11.
His Legacy Lives On in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”
The new film follows the people of Wakanda fighting to protect their nation from intervening world powers in the wake of King T’Challa’s death. Coogler said that the movie will honor Boseman and that he tried to channel him while making the film. Danai Guirira, who plays Okoye in “Black Panther” spoke about feeling Boseman’s presence while filming in an interview with Billboard saying, “We did with our full hearts, our full effort and really seeking to honor our brother.” “We can just hope and pray that it’s received that way and that people have an experience with it as a result of that,” Guirira added.
In light of the release of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” we continue to honor Chadwick Boseman’s legacy and the impact he made on the world with his 43 years of life. Here are 10 interesting facts about the actor and Howard alum.
1. He Worked as a Drama Teacher in Harlem
After graduating from Howard in 2000, Chadwick moved to Brooklyn where he studied at the Digital Film Academy in Manhattan. To support himself, he worked as a drama teacher at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem for the Junior Scholars Program. One of his former students, AshleyAnn Richardson, credits Chadwick for encouraging her to pursue a career in writing. “I didn’t really care for theater,” Richardson said. “I was a big writer and I wrote a poem and I didn’t want to read it, and he had another girl read it, and she actually performed my poem for me, and he was like, ‘You need to continue writing!’ And it’s so funny he said that, because from there on, I went into writing.”
2. He Came From a Large but Tight-Knit Family
Chadwick grew up in a religious home as the youngest of three brothers. His mother was a nurse and his father worked for an agricultural conglomerate and did upholstery work on the side. Chadwick never had any children of his own but he had a large extended family. In an interview with Mr. Porter, he said, “When my grandmother died, she left 115 grandkids and great-grandkids. That was just one side.” Boseman’s parents had a combined 25 siblings, with roots in Anderson, South Carolina going back generations and hundreds of family members. (New York Times) When Boseman had a new film, the family would buy out theaters across the country to celebrate the premiere. After Boseman’s death, hundreds of family members came together to honor his life. (Esquire) Chadwick also revealed that his family is from the Yoruba people, one of Nigeria’s largest tribes, and the Limba, who come from Sierra Leone, during a 2018 interview on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Family was always on Chadwick’s mind. His brother, Derrick Boseman told Esquire that as Chadwick recovered from a 16-hour surgery in March 2020 he spent days writing and editing a 25-page manifesto for his family which he called “the Grocery List.” “It was based off of what he felt was orders from God on how we needed to eat and be prepared during the pandemic. And it was foods that he suggested that we all purchase, that he was willing to, and he did, send money to family members who maybe didn’t have the means to be prepared during the pandemic,” Derrick says. “And he spent days, and days and days writing this thing, and editing it, and making phone calls to family members, and emailing it out to everybody so that everybody had it in their hands, so that everybody could be prepared for that season when people were buying up everything off of the shelves … Family was the most important thing to him.” Derrick said to the world he was Chadwick but to his family, he was always just “Chad.” “Chadwick is his given name, but it’s like Chadwick was the Hollywood person. But Chad never changed. He was always humble.”
3. Basketball Was One of His First Passions
As a teenager, Boseman played on an Anderson, SC-based Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball team that qualified for a national tournament in 1993. He spoke about his basketball experience on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2019, sharing that he once went head-to-head with NBA superstar, Kevin Garnett in the AAU. His former coach, Marion Tarrant said that he remembers Chadwick as someone with “a very humble spirit” who helped with team chemistry. “I think he enjoyed basketball, but it was just something to do … he wasn’t one of those guys who would live it, sleep it, dream about it,” Tarrant said of Chadwick. Although he never pursued basketball professionally, he never stopped loving or supporting the sport. In 2015, he participated in the NBA All-Star Celebrity game and was a frequent attendee of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. In the 2018 contest, a moment between him and Miami Heat Player, Victor Oladipo went viral when he handed Oladipo a Black Panther mask before doing the “Wakanda Forever” gesture. He also was a judge for the contest in 2020, just months before his passing.
4. He Was Angela Bassett’s Student Guide at Howard Years Before Black Panther Fame
Angela Bassett recalled first meeting Chadwick years ago at Howard in a touching Instagram tribute after he passed. She revealed that Chadwick was the student assigned to escort her around the university when she received her honorary doctorate. She said that Chadwick reminded her of this encounter during the premiere party for Black Panther. He also briefly spoke about this on “Live with Kelly and Ryan” in 2018. “During my graduation actually, Angela Bassett received the honorary doctorate — she plays my mother in ‘Black Panther’ — so it’s sort of a full circle,” he said.
5. He Originally Wanted to Be a Director
Earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Directing at Howard University, Chadwick originally set out to be a writer and director. Initially, he began studying acting to learn how to relate to actors. It wasn’t until he took an acting workshop taught by legendary actress Phylicia Rashad, that he decided to begin a career in acting. She encouraged him to audition for a summer acting program at the British Academy of Dramatic Acting in Oxford, England, and asked Denzel Washington to help fund him. Chadwick wrote his first play in high school after one of his basketball teammates was shot and killed. He responded by writing and staging a play called “Crossroads,” igniting his calling to become a storyteller.
According to TheaterMania.com, He immersed himself in the hip-hop theater scene, working with Howard classmate Kamilah Forbes to create the play with music “Rhyme Deferred,” which toured the United States and appears in the Hip Hop Theatre Anthology “The Fire This Time.” He wrote and directed the play “Hieroglyphic Graffiti,” a hip-hop-infused, modern telling of an ancient myth. He also directed plays such as “Dutchman,” “The Colored Museum,” “Wine in the Wilderness,” “Indian Summer,” and more. His most well-known play is called “Deep Azure,” a hip-hop theater production that follows the aftermath of a black policeman shooting dead a black student out of prejudiced panic. The play went on to become a regular in the line-up of the Congo Square Theater Company in Chicago and earned him a 2006 Jeff Award nomination for Best New Play. Chadwick also won the Best Short Film award at the Hollywood Black Film Festival in 2008 for his short film called “Blood Over A Broken Pawn,” which he wrote and directed.
6. He Did Not Have to Audition for the Role of Black Panther
According to the Marvel casting director, Sarah Halley Finn, the decision to cast Chadwick as Black Panther was “unanimous.” She revealed in an interview with Vulture, that Chadwick auditioned for a very different role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that of Drax from “The Guardians of the Galaxy.” Finn said that he read for the role of Drax as if he were a king, and his compassion, strength, and vulnerability left an impression on her. Instead of conducting the usual extensive search and seeing thousands of people for a role, Chadwick was immediately chosen for the role of Black Panther. “My team at Marvel had seen his body of work and knew his ability to channel this kind of dignity, this grace, this elegance, this regalness with humility and humor and intelligence,” Finn said. Chadwick was offered the role over the phone by Marvel Universe President, Kevin Feige.
7. He Fought to Portray an Authentic Accent for His Role as Black Panther
Originally Marvel wanted Chadwick’s Black Panther character King T’challa to have a British or American accent but he wasn’t going for it. In an interview for The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter in 2018, Chadwick said that Marvel felt like an African accent might be too much for an audience to take, or that they might not understand it through the whole movie, but Chadwick pushed for it. “It felt to me like a deal breaker,” he said. “I was like, ‘No, this is such an important factor that if we lose this right now, what else are we gonna throw away for the sake of making people feel comfortable? … Once we decided to do it, we went for it.” He also told the Los Angeles Times in 2016 that he wanted the movie to feel real and refused to speak in a European or American accent because it would imply that Wakanda had been colonized. Chadwick worked with a dialect coach to produce his Black Panther accent based in the Xhosa language. He also did research for his role in Capetown and was given the Xhosa name Mxolisi, which means “peacemaker,” by a street musician.
8. He Made SAG Awards History
In February 2021 Chadwick made Screen Actors Guild Awards history when he became the first person ever to receive four nominations in a single year in the film categories. He was nominated for his lead performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” his supporting role in “Da 5 Bloods,” and for his work in both films in the Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture category. He posthumously won the Outstanding Male Actor in a Leading Role for his performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” and his wife, Simone Ledward Boseman, accepted the honor on his behalf. During her speech, she shared a moving quote by Chadwick saying, “If you see the world unbalanced, be a crusader that pushes heavily on the seesaw of the mind.”
9. He Was a Philanthropist
Chadwick knew the importance of helping people and was a selfless giver. Even though he was undergoing his own personal battle with cancer he made time to frequently visit St. Jude’s and other childhood cancer treatment centers to surprise young fans. According to the National Outreach Director for St. Jude, Chadwick said he was “happy to help take their mind off of what they’re going through” when making the trip to Memphis from Atlanta after filming “Avengers: Endgame” to surprise a young cancer patient in 2018. According to The Joseph Maley Foundation, he donated $10,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of Harlem to pay for children to see the “Black Panther” for free. He also gave back to his hometown of Anderson, South Carolina, and bought 312 underprivileged children tickets to see “Black Panther.”
While filming “21 Bridges” he donated money from his own paycheck to boost his female co-star, Sienna Miller’s salary to the number she asked for, as he believed it was what she ‘deserved to be paid’. In April 2020, in honor of Jackie Robinson day, he helped raise $4.2 million worth of PPE equipment for hospitals serving Black communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even at the end of his life, he was thinking about others, as “Black Panther” producer, Nate Moore explained in an interview with People, that they had been working together to send a young fan gifts through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He revealed that his last text from Chadwick read “It broke me, man. But we need to do that for them. People deserve abundant life, special moments. They’ve been through hell battling disease.” he wrote. “If we were able to ease their suffering and bring joy for a moment… then we made a difference in his life.”
10. He Was a Man of Faith
Chadwick grew up in a Christian household and carried his faith into adulthood, often professing his beliefs. His childhood pastor, Pastor Samuel Neely said even with all his success, he still saw Chadwick as the same person who grew up in the church. “When I see him, it’s almost like seeing my own child; he’s still Chad,” Neely told WHNS-TV. “He did a lot of positive things within the church and within the community. With him singing in the choir, with him working the youth group, he always was doing something, always helping out, always serving. That was his personality.” In 2019, he honored Denzel Washington with the AFI Life Achievement Award. When presenting the award he quoted Ephesians 3:20 to the actor, “May God bless you exceedingly and abundantly more for what’s in store than He ever has before.” He also referenced the Bible during his Howard commencement speech in 2018. “Sometimes, you need to feel the pain and sting of defeat to activate the real passion and purpose God has predestined inside of you. God says in Jeremiah, ‘I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future,’” he told the graduating class.
Even after he got sick he never stopped believing in God. His brother Derrick, who is a pastor, said that Chadwick never complained or blamed God for his sickness. “I mean, we would have prayer sessions, family prayer. And he would always say, Hallelujah. Hallelujah.” So he always praised God, even through his illness and his sickness. That never ended.” In an interview with New York Times Paster Boseman recalled his last conversation with his brother the day before he died. He said that Chadwick told him “Man, I’m in the last quarter, and I need you to get me out the game.” Pastor Boseman realized his brother was tired and ready to go. After their last conversation, he changed his prayer from ‘God heal him, God save him,’ to ‘God let your will be done.’ “And the next day he passed away,” he said.