Everyone knew him as the king of the fictional technologically-advanced hidden African nation, Wakanda, but Chadwick Boseman was hitting it big long before donning the iconic catsuit. Many have been reminiscing about his role as the famed baseball player Jackie Robinson in the biopic 42, while others talk of his stern portrayal of renowned judge Thurgood Marshall in the movie Marshall.
Boseman was easily recognised in his roles but he had also worked hard to bring authenticity to the characters he portrayed, from the accent and research he put into for his role as T’challa to the specific mannerisms he adopted for James Brown in Get On Up. In all his roles, however, there was a certain regality he held that was practically palatable through the screen.
Originally, the actor started out with an interest in directing, even writing his first play while in school, before actually getting a bachelors in directing from Howard University. After that, he and some classmates found support in Denzel Washington in the form of finances to attend Oxford Mid-Summer Program of the British American Drama Academy in London.
It was only in 2008 that Boseman moved to Los Angeles to further his acting career, before which he had been in an episode of Third Watch and some episodes of Law & Order, CSI: NY, and ER. He wrote plays throughout his early career and finally hit big when he landed a major role in 2013.
The biographical movie of Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman Jackie Robinson, the first black athlete to make it into Major League Baseball, was a hit when it came out. It was a box office hit and grossed US$97.5 million globally. But it was Boseman’s portrayal that got to everyone. Robinson’s widow has even commented on how it was like seeing Jackie again. Boseman won the role by impressing director Brian Helgeland by auditioning twice for the role.
Alongside Boseman in the movie was Harrison Ford, almost unrecognisable under the makeup he wore to play Branch Rickey; Nicole Beharie, Christopher Meloni, André Holland, Lucas Black, Hamish Linklater and Ryan Merriman. The movie itself is the typical tale of an athlete versus the world to prove himself. This time, the odds were against him purely based on his skin colour. To honour Boseman in light of his passing, 740 movie theatres are playing this movie again.
Get On Up
After his success in 42, Boseman was on the screen again late the following year in the James Brown biopic, selected by Universal themselves. Employing a non-linear narrative to portray Brown’s stream of consciousness, the movie even has moments where the fourth wall is broken. Jumping through the different moments in Brown’s life that draw a story through linking threads, Boseman performed all of his own dancing and some of the singing in the show, a tiring feat considering how Brown was known to move. It’s difficult to look away from the gold suit and pompadour hair in this movie.
Mick Jagger was on the movie as a producer and Tate Tayler of The Help was in the director seat. Joining him on screen was an ensemble cast of Nelsan Ellis as Bobby Byrd, Dan Aykroyd as Ben Bart, Viola Davis as Susie Brown, Craig Robinson as Maceo Parker, and Octavia Spencer as Aunt Honey. Ellis, famed for his role in True Blood, unfortunately, passed on only three years after the movie’s release due to alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
His third role as yet another black icon from history was as the formidable American lawyer and civil rights activist Thurgood Marshall. Serving as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from October 1967 until October 1991, Marshall was the Court’s first African-American justice. This movie revolves around a young Marshall and one of his first cases State of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell, a man accused of raping his wealthy white female boss.
Boseman stirred up a storm as Marshall, portraying the lawyer attempting to do the right thing when not everything is as clear as it seems. Many critics cited his performance in this tense courtroom drama as electrifying. Josh Gad stands by his side as Sam Friedman, an insurance lawyer and Sterling K. Brown is haunting opposite him as Joseph Spell.
Da 5 Bloods
Although at this point the actor was moving into stage 4 of his cancer and had been noticeably been losing weight before the role, he trudged on. Even though he was not the main character of this Spike Lee movie, he left a solid impression on his fellow veteran actors as well as the audience. There are many iconic speeches that Boseman delivers as Norman, the ‘Bloods’ leader who dies tragically in Vietnam, which such gusto, one can’t look away.
Going back to the Vietnam war with a different angle, Lee brings us into the world of black US army soldiers who served in the 1st Infantry, referred to fondly by Hanoi Hannah as Black G.I.’s. Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters and Norm Lewis star as four army veterans who go back to Vietnam to retrieve a crate of gold they buried and conquer demons in their past.
Peters most recently has apologised, for misjudging Boseman as being ‘precious’ on the set of Da 5 Bloods, because the actor had a large entourage and doctors during filming, which we now know the reason for.
Da 5 Bloods will not be Boseman’s last role as Netflix is holding onto the release of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom where he plays trumpet player Levee opposite to Viola Davis’ Ma Rainey, the famous blues singer. The film is in post-production having finished filming in 2019 and might be released next year but things are still up in the air.
Rest in peace, Chadwick Boseman, you will be remembered not only as T’challa but also as Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, James Brown, Norman the GI and so much more. The world will miss your formidable acting and everything you had to offer.