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Farewell Black Panther



THERE is that Coldplay song 42 from the album Viva la Vida playing in the background as I sit and type this piece with a sad heart. It is an ode to a star that burnt out too soon and the memory of the brief period in which he shone comes in a long reel of notable motion-pictures . The song goes and plays on as I reminisce on a man I and the world came to admire for his role in the Marvel comics, the most notable of which is the unforgettable Black Panther. It is Chadwick Boseman I am thinking of as the first part of the song plays out in a sad threnody: Those who are dead are not dead, They just living in my head, And since I fell for that spell, I am living there as well…oh! Time is so short and I am sure there must be something more The wish we have a lot of time when a notable individual passes on is that we could have had more time to see them, to know them, and to enjoy their company. However, it seems the old adage rings true more of the time than we may wish it to be: only the good die young and the best we are left with are the words, “gone to soon”. He was just 43 when he succumbed to colon cancer which he had bravely fought for the past four years. Death the leveller may seem to have won at the end of the day, but Chadwick Boseman left the world on a different level of thought and mindset with the roles he had executed on the silver screen in the waning years of his brief life, and therefore, his was the greater victory. For the black and any other-coloured child wanting to make a mark in the world of film and entertainment, the tale of the life of Chadwick Boseman is one that inspires only feeling of greatness. Though Boseman died on August 28, 2020, after privately dealing with colon cancer for four years he made me aware that we will all die and fall, but the words inscribed on our epitaphs are what really count in this world of the passing. The brief biography I found states that Chadwick Aaron Boseman was born on November the 29th, 1976 and that he died on August the 28th, 2020. He is well-known as an American actor that played the lives of several black historical figures, including those of such notable figures as Jackie Robinson (the first African-American to play in Major-League Baseball) in the movie 42 released in 2013, the unforgettable ‘Godfather of Soul’ James Brown in Get on Up in 2014, and the unequalled paragon of social justice Thurgood Marshall (who served as the first African-American justice in Supreme Court of United States from 1967 to 1991) in Marshall in 2017. It was his role as the superhero Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films that brought his fame to another level, but it was his lead role in Black Panther released in 2018 that made him an international star, winning him an NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) Image Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award. Born and raised in South Carolina, Boseman attended Howard University where he studied fine arts. He began his career acting, directing, playwriting, and teaching in New York City. His first leading role in a Hollywood film was in 42. Boseman’s film roles toward the end of his life included 21 Bridges (2019), which he also co-produced, and Da 5 Bloods (2020). His final film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, will be released posthumously on Netflix. It is a life well-lived that began with Boseman getting his first television role in 2003, in an episode of Third Watch. That same year, Boseman portrayed Reggie Montgomery in the daytime soap opera All My Children, but was fired after voicing concerns to producers about racist stereotypes in the script; the role was subsequently re-cast, with Boseman’s future Black Panther co-star Michael B. Jordan assuming the role. His early work included episodes of the series Law & Order, CSI: NY, and ER. He also continued to write plays, with his script for Deep Azure performed at the Congo Square Theatre Company in Chicago; it was nominated for a 2006 Joseph Jefferson Award for New Work. In 2008, he played a recurring role on the television series Lincoln Heights and appeared in his first feature film, The Express: The Ernie Davis Story. He landed a regular role in 2010 in another television series, Persons Unknown. According to film critic Owen Gleiberman in the magazine Variety: “Boseman was a virtuoso actor who had the rare ability to create a character from the outside in and the inside out and he knew how to fuse with a role, etching it in three dimensions … That’s what made him an artist, and a movie star, too. Yet in Black Panther, he also became that rare thing, a culture hero”. Similar reviews of his almost cultic status as an actor whose roles inspired a generation are shared by Richard Brody in The New Yorker. His view was one that found the root to the actor’s originality of formidable acting technique lying in his ability to empathize with the interior lives of his characters and rendering them on screen fully and completely, thus leaving the audience seeing them as belonging to the character. The Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw wrote of the actor’s, “beauty, his grace, his style, his presence … These made up Chadwick Boseman’s persona and he became the lost prince of American cinema, glorious and inspirational.” These are views shared by many that came to see him perform up there on the silver screen, because his actions brought to the fore mere and unknown kingdoms like Lesotho to the fore. Our Basotho blankets appear in Black Panther and the acknowledgment of our blanket pushed the Basotho onto the international scene. The rather private Chadwick Boseman began dating singer Taylor Simone Ledward in 2015 and the two reportedly got engaged by October 2019, and they later married in secret, as revealed by Boseman’s family in a statement announcing his death. He was raised a Christian and was baptised. He was part of a church choir and youth group and his former pastor said that he still kept his faith. Boseman had stated that he prayed to be the Black Panther before he was cast as the titular character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In his last days he still found time to congratulate Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris on her nomination, like all proud that she became the first African-American woman to be granted such a notable position. It is said that Boseman was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, which eventually progressed to stage IV before 2020. He had never spoken publicly about his cancer diagnosis. Many of us were not aware that it was during treatment, involving multiple surgeries and chemotherapy, that 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. Many of his fellow actors and other celebrities have paid their tribute to Boseman via social media following the announcement of his death, including a number of his Marvel Cinematic Universe co-stars. Marvel Studios president and CCO Kevin Feige called Boseman’s death “absolutely devastating”, writing: “Each time he stepped on set, he radiated charisma and joy, and each time he appeared on screen, he created something truly indelible … Now he takes his place as an icon for the ages.” Co-stars from Boseman’s other films also paid tribute to him. His death was compared to other unexpected deaths of young black celebrities in 2020, particularly Kobe Bryant and Naya Rivera. His death also drew responses from the political realm including former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama with Mr. Obama writing, “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.” Additionally, the 2020 Democratic presidential ticket nominees Joe Biden and Kamala Harris paid tribute to Boseman. On Twitter, Biden wrote: “The true power of Chadwick Boseman was bigger than anything we saw on screen. From the Black Panther to Jackie Robinson, he inspired generations and showed them they can be anything they want — even superheroes.” Harris, who was also the subject of Boseman’s final tweet, posted a statement mourning the loss. On August 29, 2020, the day after Boseman died, the tweet from his family in his Twitter account confirming his death became the most-liked tweet ever, with more than 6 million likes in under 24 hours. Excerpts from such sources as CNN, BBC, and other media houses reveal that 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, due to his notable portrayal of the player. Several publications noted Boseman died on Jackie Robinson Day, seven years after his having portrayed Robinson. So great is Boseman’s contribution to the advancement of humanity that South Carolina Governor, Henry McMaster, ordered the Statehouse flags be lowered to half-staff on August 30, 2020, in honor of Boseman, who was born and raised in the state. Also on August 30, ABC (with Disney and Marvel) aired Black Panther without commercials, followed by a retrospective of Boseman’s life and career titled Chadwick Boseman — A Tribute for a King. The 2020 MTV Video Music Awards ceremony was also dedicated to Boseman. In the interviews about his childhood heroes and icons, Boseman cited Black political leaders and musicians: Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Bob Marley, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest and Prince. Deeply private and often guarded in his public appearances and interviews, he made clear that he understood the significance of his work and its impact on the broader culture. At the 2019 Screen Actors Guild Award, “Black Panther” won best ensemble, electrifying the room. Before an auditorium full of actors, Chadwick Boseman stepped to the microphone. He quoted Nina Simone: “To be young, gifted and black,” and put the moment in context: “We know what it’s like to be told there isn’t a screen for you to be featured on, a stage for you to be featured on. … We know what’s like to be beneath and not above. And that is what we went to work with every day. We knew that we could create a world that exemplified a world we wanted to see. We knew that we had something to give.” There are protests all over the world at this point in time, from #Blacklivesmatter in America to Eldorado Park in South Africa, the need for a superhero that understands humanity at both the imaginative and real levels has never been more clear. We need the figure T’Challa the Black Panther in our midst, but he has gone to some other type of future where superheroes do not die. As said before, the private life and strength of character despite the cancer, and the achievements in the midst of the pain reveal Chadwick Boseman as a figure who can be seen as no less than the superheroes he played in his lifetime. He taught us that we can chin on despite the challenges, that we can be more than what the world expects of us, that there is a black panther growling somewhere in each and everyone of us. It is one thing to be young gifted and black, it is a whole different level to be superhero to every man, woman and child in the world, including a tiny kingdom hidden somewhere in the belly of another more powerful country. His life is a lesson that we too can get somewhere if we set out to find the superhero in us.  So long brother, so long. Hamba Kahle mntakwethu… Tšepiso S. Mothibi

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