Chadwick Boseman

Chadwick Boseman

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14 mins read

Chadwick Aaron Boseman (November 29, 1976–August 28, 2020) was an American actor known for his portrayals of real-life historical figures such as Jackie Robinson in 42, James Brown in Get on Up, Thurgood Marshall in Marshall and for his portrayal of the superhero Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films Captain America: Civil WarBlack PantherAvengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

Boseman was born and raised in Anderson, South Carolina, to Carolyn and Leroy Boseman, both African American.

According to Boseman, DNA testing has indicated that his ancestors were Krio people from Sierra Leone, Yoruba people from Nigeria and Limba people from Sierra Leone.

His mother was a nurse and his father worked at a textile factory, keeping an upholstery business as well.

Boseman graduated from T. L. Hanna High School in 1995. In his junior year, he wrote his first play, Crossroads, and staged it at the school after a classmate was shot and killed.

He 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 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. 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 Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York. In 2008, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.

In 2019, he starred in 21 Bridges, as an NYPD detective who shuts down the eponymous twenty-one bridges of Manhattan to find two suspected cop killers. He was approached to work on the film by two of its producers, Avengers directors the Russo brothers, at the Infinity War premiere. While 21 Bridges was filming, the Russos and Boseman were working on Endgame. Boseman was also a producer on 21 Bridges, something he said was made clear to him in his early conversations with the production team; the three producers are given a nod in one of the film’s opening lines, when a character is described as an “avenger”. All of the film’s characters were originally conceived as male and white, with Boseman encouraging amendments to this and other parts of the story. In his capacity as a producer, Boseman sought out Sienna Miller to be his co-star; Miller, who was intending to take a break from acting while her daughter was young, asked for a salary that the studio would not meet, and so Boseman donated the rest from his own pay. He also personally called Stephan James to ask him to play one of the criminals Boseman’s detective is hunting; the two actors had been planning to work more together after the film. Boseman said that he and producing partner Logan Coles fought for casting and for actors that brought particular sensibilities and feelings. 

As an actor, Boseman developed his character by going on calls with the NYPD and LAPD, which he said influenced the writing after he fed back his experiences, and learning how to fire blanks and handle a gun with a police weapons specialist. 

In 2019 Boseman was announced as part of the cast for the Netflix films Da 5 Bloods, directed by Spike Lee, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, directed by George C. Wolfe. He took these “bucket-list roles” for opportunities to work with Lee and with Ma Rainey producer Denzel Washington, as well as the opportunity to perform in an August Wilson play. He was also cast in a film telling the story of Yasuke, the only non-Asian samurai and the first black man in Japan, which he was set to co-produce.

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. He studied Hebrew and had a good knowledge of both the Old Testament and New Testament. Boseman had stated that he prayed to be the Black Panther before he was cast as the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Outside of performing, Boseman supported various charities. He worked with cancer charities including St. Jude’s Hospital, continuing to support those battling the disease up until his own death from it; in a message to a producer days before he died, Boseman inquired about sending gifts to childhood cancer patients. He donated $10,000 to the Boys and Girls Club of Harlem to provide free tickets for children who wanted to see Black Panther; he did this to support and promote the Black Panther Challenge started by a New Yorker to raise money for similar children across the country. In response, Disney donated $1 million to the Boys & Girls Clubs to advance its STEM programs. Boseman advocated for children’s charities, with the Jackie Robinson Foundation noting after his death that he helped with their youth outreach. When Disney planned to donate $400 million to charitable causes, Boseman encouraged the move. In April 2020, he donated $4.2 million in personal protective equipment to hospitals fighting the COVID-19 pandemic in black communities, starting his own Operation 42 challenge to encourage others to donate PPE.

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 MarshallDa 5 BloodsMa Rainey, 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. Boseman died without a will, and his estate will be governed by California law with the representation of Ledward. A public memorial service was held on September 4, 2020, in Anderson, South Carolina, where the speakers included Boseman’s childhood pastor as well as Deanna Brown-Thomas, daughter of James Brown, whom Boseman portrayed in Get on Up. The city announced plans for creation of a permanent art memorial at the service. Despite reports Boseman was buried at Welfare Baptist Church cemetery in nearby Belton, South Carolina, the funeral home handling his services and the church pastor both denied this. 

Major League Baseball and the Los Angeles Dodgers, the franchise for which Robinson played when the team was at its former home of Brooklyn, New York, issued statements honoring Boseman, in light of his acclaimed portrayal of the player. Several publications noted Boseman died on the observance of Jackie Robinson Day, seven years after his having portrayed Robinson. Prior to the fifth game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA playoffs, Boseman was honored with a moment of silence, alongside Cliff Robinson and Lute Olson. When Lewis Hamilton, the only black driver in Formula One, won the 2020 Belgian Grand Prix, he dedicated the win to Boseman. 

On August 28, 2020, a Change.org petition was started, seeking to replace a Confederate monument in his hometown of Anderson with a statue of Boseman; it collected more than 50,000 signatures in less than a week, surpassing its original goal of 15,000 signatures. Henry McMaster, the Governor of South Carolina, ordered the Statehouse flags be lowered to half-staff on August 30 in honor of Boseman, who was born and raised in the state. ABC (which, like Marvel Entertainment, is owned by Disney) aired a commercial-free version of Black Panther, followed by a special about Boseman’s life and work titled Chadwick Boseman — A Tribute for a King on the same day. Also aired on August 30 was the 2020 MTV Video Music Awards; the ceremony was dedicated to Boseman. On September 24, 2020, Disney unveiled a mural, titled King Chad, by artist Nikkolas Smith dedicated to Boseman at Downtown Disney in Anaheim, California.

Boseman is also memorialized in the 2020 video game Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales. The game includes an after-credits message dedicating it in memory of Boseman, as well as a street called Boseman Way on 42nd Street; the number 42 bears significance in the Miles Morales universe as well as referring to Boseman’s portrayal of Jackie Robinson. A Wakandan flag also appears. Amazon also made Black Panther comic titles available for free on its ComiXology platform in the wake of Boseman’s death. On November 29, 2020, Marvel changed the studio’s logo animation in the opening of Black Panther on Disney+ to include images of Boseman from the film, as well as his appearances in Captain America: Civil WarAvengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame, to honor what would have been Boseman’s 44th birthday.