Despite the turbulent nature of the year overall, the death of Chadwick Boseman remains, to date, one of the most tragic things that happened in 2020. The 43-year-old Hollywood actor’s seemingly sudden death shocked the world to its core. Millions of fans across the globe bore the collective heartbreak of losing an icon who emerged as an emblem of Black power and cultural representation in the biggest cinematic industry.
It is true that Chadwick Boseman was known most widely for his appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Black Panther. However, he has played many other memorable roles over the years, too, his niche being historically significant Black icons. If you tune into the movie channels on your Spectrum TV Choice, you will see how many biopics he has appeared in to pay homage to the culture. Let us have a look at a few of his stellar performances that did so many unsung heroes of Black history justice.
Two years before his tragic demise in 2020, Boseman gave us his most iconic performance as the lead role in Marvel Studio’s blockbuster, Black Panther. He made his appearance in the film, which became the highest-grossing film of 2018, in the throes of colon cancer. It went on to be remembered as one of the top two highest-earning Marvel movies, second only to Avengers: Infinity War.
The movie is set against the background of Prince T’Challa’s return to the fortress of Wakanda, a highly technologically advanced and culturally rich African American nation, to claim the throne after his father’s death. Conflict arises when a powerful old foe challenges his authority as a newly appointed king, leading him to rally his forces and meet the challenge head-on in an attempt to save Wakanda and the world.
In addition to the marvelous direction, set design, and cinematography of the film, what makes it a truly memorable cinematic masterpiece is how appropriate and self-aware the casting and Black cultural representation are. On top of its intricately woven storyline, it is popularly lauded as the first mainstream cinematic celebration of Black tribal culture, on their terms. This portrayal, devoid of any charge of appropriation or exoticization, was only made possible by Marvel’s decision to select a predominantly Black cast and their first Black director, Ryan Coogler. His performance in the film won him the BET award for best actor in 2018.
Get On Up
This 2014 film, an emotional tribute to the ‘Godfather of Soul,’ James Brown, features Boseman in the lead role. The heart-wrenching story narrates the struggles of one of the most influential voices in jazz, as Boseman embodies his essence completely, doing most of the singing and all of the dancing in the film himself!
The story features James Brown’s struggles with abandonment, survival, arrest, being tortured in jail, and pursuing his career in music, which began in a gospel group while he was a teenager. The ‘Chitlin circuit’ of jazz and blues became his one-way ticket to fame. The film brings the soul and blues star’s illustrious journey is brought to life through Boseman’s incredible performance that struck the perfect balance between emotional and comical.
Another one of his memorable biopics, Marshall, features his performance as a young Thurgood Marshall, a defense attorney who represents clients who have been charged with crimes on account of racial discrimination. This film, released in 2017, once again, bears testament to his exceptional ability to embody the essence of real-life characters.
The story revolves around the arrest and trial of an African American man who has been convicted on grounds of raping a Caucasian woman. Boseman’s Marshall takes on the responsibility to represent him in court, resulting in a shocking turn of events in favor of the defendant that rules him as ‘not guilty,’ despite all the odds stacked against him.
In terms of achievements, the film earned two major award nominations. Its original song, Stand Up for Something, was an Oscar nominee for best achievement in music written for motion pictures.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Released after his death as a tribute to him, this film was Boseman’s final film appearance of all time. Another one of his many biopics, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom featured the eponymous ‘Mother of Blues’ in a chaotic recording session. The film found a place on the American Film Institute’s list of ten best films of 2020, earning Boseman an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
Structured as a comedy of errors, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has a lot of social commentary on the state of affairs of Black artists in the late 1920s, Chicago. Starting from the recurring assertion of the Black musicians (including Ma Rainey herself) stating that they hold relevance only due to their talent, to the replacement of Levee (Boseman) with a choir of white musicians to record his songs, the movie bears witness to decades of Black trauma associated with the music industry.
Da 5 Bloods
Another one of Chadwick Boseman’s memorable roles has been as squad leader, Stormin’ Norman, in Da 5 Bloods, the last of the films released in his lifetime. It secured the topmost watched spot over the weekend right after its release on Netflix. It has a solid 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and one Oscar nomination under its belt.
Rooted in war-torn Vietnam, the plot revolves around the ‘Bloods,’ a squad of Black American army officers, who are left to scavenge the site of a CIA plane crash and retrieve gold bars from its cargo. These are to be used as repayment for the Lahu people, who helped them in their fight with Viet Cong. Trouble ensues when the Bloods decide to hide the loot for themselves, and they lose track of where it is after Norman dies in a Vietnamese counterattack.