A few days ago, actor Chadwick Boseman died tragically from colon cancer. As an actor, Boseman’s work reached out and touched many people across the world, and since his death became public there have been many tributes and celebrations of his life.
Black Panther, Boseman becomes a superhero that everyone can look up to
Boseman’s most famous role came about only a few years ago, and ended up being one of the most impactful roles in Marvel’s cinematic universe since Robert Downey Jr. in the original Iron Man (2008). Black Panther was a character who managed to transcend cinema and become a part of global culture in a way few other characters ever have, and was celebrated as such.
It's important to include the Black experience in the superhero genre
Perhaps the greatest shame of American culture is the way in which many creators and influencers in popular culture attempt to either exploit or exclude Black people from wider movements within pop-culture. Boseman’s role, and his ability to perform, created a force too large to ignore, too strong to exclude, something which was both Black and pop and not purely exploitative.
It is for these simple reasons that Boseman as Black Panther was able to reach out and connect with people in ways that other characters failed to. Black Panther became more than a character, it became a symbol with the visage of Chadwick Boseman; proud, real, and attainable.
The reach of Black Panther
The story of an African country, thriving, untouched by colonialism was one which needed to be told. So powerfully did the themes of Black Panther resonate with Black people across the world that now, even two years later, Black Panther remains a symbol of Black excellence.
People who grew up never seeing a Black person as a mainstream blockbuster superhero were able to take their children to the theater to watch Black Panther together. Boseman’s likeness has been copied, spread, and added to creative works throughout the world, even being featured in another pop culture behemoth like Fortnite.
“We were right to celebrate Black Panther the way we did”
American culture has benefited and grown so much thanks to Black Americans’ contributions, some freely offered and some taken. As wider white American culture continues to develop its racial awareness it’s becoming clearer and clearer to many that the treatment of Black people in the country needs to change.
It is a travesty that Chadwick Boseman will not see the full reach of the symbol which bares his likeness, but thanks to the overwhelming and astounding reaction surrounding Black Panther’s release, he was, perhaps, able to imagine it.