Long live the king: Reflecting on the legacy of Chadwick Boseman

I always struggle with how to process celebrity deaths, because in some ways, my grief feels presumptuous. I may have liked and admired their work as a performer, but I know that the loss hurts far, far worse for that person’s friends and family. I didn’t know the celebrity personally, yet in other ways, I feel that I DO know them. They’re someone you feel close to without really having had the chance to interact with them.

Chadwick Boseman’s death hurts on many levels, and it hit me like a gut-punch on social media Friday night. Obviously, the news is devastating to his family and friends. He passed away this week after privately fighting a four-year battle with cancer, at the age of 43.

His death comes as a shock — one that none of his fans saw coming — but I respect his choice not to share his diagnosis publicly, and to live his remaining years as he saw fit. I can’t imagine how hard it was to keep acting and to go on press tours while fighting such a cruel illness. I’m glad he was given the privacy he wanted.

Boseman leaves behind a distinguished body of work — including Marvel Cinematic Universe movies such as “Black Panther,” “Captain America: Civil War,” and “Infinity War” and “Endgame,” as well as the historical drama “42,” where he played baseball star Jackie Robinson. However, as when any actor passes away too soon, we’re left with haunting “what ifs,” as we imagine what else they might have achieved in their career if it was not cut short.

To many, Boseman was more than a Hollywood actor — as the superhero Black Panther, he was a role model, and a symbol of power and hope. I’ll never forget his introduction as Black Panther in “Captain America: Civil War.” Although Iron Man and Captain America were the main characters in that film, Black Panther left the biggest impression on me.

Boseman is one of those actors who commands your attention whenever he’s on screen. His Black Panther portrayal radiates power, strength, and nobility. This is a superhero with a deep sense of justice, and a message for the real world beyond the fictional land of Wakanda.

All children deserve to have a superhero they can relate to, and kids loved Black Panther. Superhero cinema has a predominantly white male history, and Black Panther’s arrival on the big screen was long overdue.

I can’t imagine anyone but Boseman playing Black Panther, and I hope he knew just how important and inspiring his performance was.

Sometimes people criticize the impact of celebrities on our culture, and to a certain extent, there are certain celebrities who are treated with too much awe and reverence. At the end of the day, they are just as human and flawed as each of us are.

While I don’t know Boseman personally, I have a feeling that he was not one of those celebrities who was obsessed with self-importance. He knew how much kids looked up to his Black Panther, and he took that responsibility seriously. He tried to do good in the real world, beyond his performances onscreen.

I’ve been seeing posts on social media of parents describing how their children are processing their grief, and it’s hard, because I wish these children could have seen so many more Black Panther movies.

But the legend of Boseman’s Black Panther will live on, as children re-watch the movies we do have and play with their action figures, and believe they can be heroes too.

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