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Tribute to a Trailblazer: The great Chadwick Boseman

Chadwick Aaron Boseman was born and raised in Anderson, South Carolina, the son of Carolyn and Leroy Boseman, both African-American. His mother was a nurse and his father worked at a textile factory, managing an upholstery business as well. According to Boseman, DNA testing from 'African Ancestry' indicated that some of his ancestors were Krio people from Sierra Leone, Limba people from Sierra Leone and Yoruba people from Nigeria.

Boseman graduated from T. L. Hanna High School in 1995 where he played on the basketball team. 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 teachers 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 England, to which they had been accepted.

Boseman wanted to write and direct, and initially began studying acting to learn how to relate to actors. After he returned to the U.S., he graduated from New York City's Digital Film Academy.

He lived in Brooklyn at the start of his career. Boseman worked as the drama instructor in the Schomburg Junior Scholars Program, housed at the Schomburg Centre for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York. In 2008, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his acting career.

Whilst Boseman is arguably best known for portraying Black Panther his breakthrough role was 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. The same year, Boseman also starred in the independent film The Kill Hole, which was released in theatre’s a few weeks before 42.

As James Brown in 2014's Get on Up, Boseman did some singing and all of his own dancing. He watched Brown's performances for weeks, and spoke with Mick Jagger before deciding to portray 'The Hardest Working Man in Show Business'. According to Irish Times film correspondent, Donald Clarke, "Get on Up tested every weapon in the actor’s arsenal...The performance confirmed that, like a star from Hollywood’s golden age, Chadwick Boseman could do it all and do it all with style."

In 2016, he starred as Thoth, a deity from Egyptian mythology, in Gods of Egypt. Boseman was one of the few actors of colour featured in the film, which had drawn criticism for depicting a predominantly white cast playing Egyptian characters. Agreeing with the criticism, Boseman said it motivated him to accept the role to ensure one of the film's Egyptian deity would be of African descent.

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 United States. The role earned Boseman a spot on the 2018 Time 100 as one of the world's most influential people, with Sean Combs writing his entry. 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.

Boseman portrayed Thurgood Marshall in the biographical film Marshall in 2017. Set years before he became the first African American Supreme Court Justice, the movie focuses on one of Marshall's early cases. It was premiered at Howard University, which both Boseman and Marshall had attended.

Unbeknownst to many Boseman was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, which eventually progressed to stage IV before 2020. He never spoke publicly about his cancer diagnosis, and according to The Hollywood Reporter, "only a handful of non-family members knew that Boseman was sick... with varying degrees of knowledge about the severity of his condition". 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 August 28, 2020, with his wife and family by his side.

Following on from his death many people expressed their sadness and the impact that Boseman had on their lives and the lives around him. Actor Dwayne Johnson tweeted: "Thank you for shining your light and sharing your talent with the world. My love and strength to your family." Democratic Vice-President nominee Kamala Harris tweeted Heartbroken. My friend and fellow Bison Chadwick Boseman was brilliant, kind, learned, and humble. He left too early, but his life made a difference. Sending my sincere condolences to his family. Former President Barack Obama added his voice to the tributes “Chadwick came to the White House to work with kids when he was playing Jackie Robinson. You could tell right away that he was blessed. To be young, gifted, and Black; to use that power to give them heroes to look up to; to do it all while in pain – what a use of his years.”

Boseman also spoke out against institutional racism in 2018 he returned to his university to speak at its graduation ceremony. "Some of you here struggled against the university itself," he said to the mostly minority ethnic audience. "Many of you will leave Howard and enter systems and institutions that have a history of discrimination and marginalisation. "The fact that you have struggled with this university which you love is a sign that you can use your education to improve the world that you are entering.”

It can be seen that Chadwick Boseman had a profound impact on many people throughout his career with his portrayal of important figures within the black and worldwide community, the fact he was doing a lot of it whilst battling cancer should be seen as his final, and greatest achievement.


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