November 29, 1976. A young boy by the name of Chadwick Aaron Boseman is born in South Carolina, USA.
August 28, 2020. The world loses one of its most talented black actors, producers and superheroes.
I am not here to discuss the circumstances of his death. Instead, I'd like to talk about the legacy that Boseman has left behind through the characters he brought to life on the big screen.
Throughout my childhood, I grew up watching superhero movies. Batman, Superman, X-Men, you name it. But one thing that all of these heroes, who I looked up to and one day wanted to be like, was that they were all predominantly white.
My skin colour or that of any other minority was never represented on the big screen. Sure, you'd have the supporting characters be African-American or Asian, but never the protagonist.
Everyone grows up and out of the "I want to be Batman" phase at some point and moves on to more realistic endeavours. But for me, and many others, the time came a little too early, as we realised that we were more suited for the role of sidekicks and that one guy that makes a 10-minute cameo just to be the butt of the joke.
It took over 20 years of my life, when I was much older and studying in university, for this archetype of superheroes to finally be changed.
T'Challa, King of Wakanda, the Black Panther, finally brought into the mainstream a superhero for me. For us.
Black Panther wasn't just a groundbreaking film for the black community across the world, it had a very similar effect on anyone who wasn't white. Here was a superhero, a king, who not was not only black but was also speaking with an African accent--something Boseman actively fought for with the creative executives of the movie.
You didn't have to look far to see the effect that one movie could have. Theatres were being filled to the brim, audience ratings were through the roof, critics were giving rave reviews and the box office numbers was topping everything else that came before it.
However, more than all of this was the cultural phenomenon taking place. Anyone with a darker skin colour finally had their hero. And he wasn't some comedy gimmick or sidekick, he was the HERO. He was cool and funny. Smart and strong. He didn't just make us grip our seats during exciting action sequences, but also made us tear up with his story and the emotion he put into his performance.
A key theme of the movie is Killmonger's anger at Wakanda, with all its technology and power, for not reaching out to help the disenfranchised black people all around the world. While Killmonger's plans are evil and likely to cause chaos across the world, his message resonates with T'Challa, who is seen at the end of the movie starting up an outreach centre in America for young African-Americans.
Movie themes and underlying messages aside, Black Panther was the movie and will continue to be the movie that inspires black youth all across the world. We're already seeing the messages coming in from celebrities and fans, talking about the impact Black Panther had on them. Kids dressed in costumes or doing the iconic "Wakanda Forever" pose, thanking Boseman for being their hero.
When all is said and done, as Brian Kirk (director of 21 Bridges, one of Boseman's more recent films) said, "Pre-Panther, if you were trying to finance a movie with a black lead who wasn't Will Smith or Denzel Washington, it was challenging. That movie changed the sense of possibility around that. It allowed other people, like me, to be in a position where we could be looking for lead actors irrespective of colour. That is liberating for all storytellers, and for all people."
For anyone who wants to watch more of this brilliant man on their screens, I highly recommend checking out 42 and Get on Up.
Rest in power, Chadwick Boseman. You'll always be a king in our hearts.