A legacy of performances without equal
Chadwick Boseman died of colon cancer yesterday, as Major League Baseball celebrated the legacy of Jackie Robinson. Boseman’s first major role was playing Jackie Robinson, in the biopic 42. As I watched a Dodgers game full of Robinson memories, the broadcaster had to cut in with the news that Boseman had died. It was just another body blow in a nightmarish year, as America struggles with a legacy of racial injustice.
We all know about Boseman playing Jackie Robinson, about him as T’Challa, the Black Panther, one of the most iconic characters in movie history, and about him as James Brown, an extraordinary portrayal in a flawed biopic.
Chadwick Boseman was a great actor. He embodied Black complexity and dignity on screen. He was the natural heir to great Black cinematic performers like Sidney Poitier and Denzel Washington. But a quick look at his IMDB page shows just how brief his career was. He didn’t first appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe until Captain America: Civil War, released in 2016, the year our second actual civil war began.
But before Black Panther, and before James Brown, Chadwick Boseman was a struggling actor in Hollywood. His credits include one-episode shots on Third Watch, Law and Order, CSI: NY, ER, Cold Case, Lie to Me, and Castle. The year before the release of 42, he appeared in an episode of Fringe.
Now, that was a featured role for sure. But it was a far cry from portraying Thurgood Marshall in a biopic.
Chadwick Boseman leaves behind an extraordinary cinematic legacy, basically packed into eight years. In less than a decade, he portrayed the most important Black American sports figure ever (apart from maybe Muhammad Ali), the most important Black American legal figure ever, one of the most significant Black American musicians ever, and the most important Black superhero ever created.
Today, like the rest of the world, we mourn him, celebrate him, and urge you all to watch his movies over and over again. Chadwick Boseman, RIP.