“Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman died at 43 following a four-year battle with colon cancer, his representatives said Friday night. The news was first reported by the Associated Press.
“A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all, and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much,” the statement reads, adding that “it was the honor of his career to bring King T’Challa to life in ‘Black Panther.’ ”
As T’Challa, the Wakandan king who later fights alongside the Avengers, Boseman was the face of a film that changed the entertainment industry. Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther,” which featured a predominantly Black cast, broke numerous box-office records and grossed $1.3 billion worldwide. It premiered in 2018 to critical acclaim and became the first superhero film to be nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards (where it also became the first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie to win an Oscar).
Boseman — and the Wakandan salute — was a staple of the 2019 awards season. He delivered a powerful speech at the Screen Actors Guild Awards after “Black Panther” won outstanding cast in a motion picture, touching on the movie’s immense cultural impact.
“To be young, gifted and Black, we all know what it’s like to be told that there is not a place for you to be featured, yet you are young, gifted and Black,” Boseman said. “We know what it’s like to be told there’s not a screen for you to be featured on, a stage for you to be featured on. We know what it’s like to be the tail and not the head. We know what it’s like to be beneath and not above.
“And that is what we went to work with every day because we knew — not that we would be around during award season or that it would make a billion dollars, but we knew we had something special that we wanted to give the world. That we could be full human beings in the roles that we were playing, that we could create a world that exemplified a world that we wanted to see.”
In a review, The Washington Post’s David Betancourt described “Black Panther” as “undeniably bold, black and beautiful.” He praised Boseman’s charisma and command of the role, a show of strength the actor emanated in real life as well. A few months after the film’s release, Boseman delivered a commencement speech at his alma mater, Howard University, and encouraged the new graduates to persevere in the face of adversity.
“Whatever you choose for a career path, remember the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose,” he said, later alluding to how the school shaped him: “But what do you do when the principles and standards that were instilled in you here at Howard close the doors in front of you? Sometimes you need to get knocked down before you can really figure out what your fight is.”
Boseman pursued directing at Howard but took acting classes to supplement his chosen craft, according to a Rolling Stone profile that notes he found a mentor in “The Cosby Show” actress Phylicia Rashad, his teacher. He began acting professionally in the mid-2000s and eventually made a name for himself in film playing iconic Black figures including Jackie Robinson in 2013′s “42,” James Brown in 2014′s “Get on Up” and Thurgood Marshall in 2017′s “Marshall.”
Several industry figures mourned Boseman in public statements Friday night, including the directors Jordan Peele, Barry Jenkins and Ava DuVernay, who tweeted an image of T’Challa visiting the Wakandan ancestral plane in “Black Panther.” Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), who also attended Howard, shared a photo of herself embracing her “friend and fellow Bison.”
Other actors from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well as the studio itself, shared memories of their co-star. Don Cheadle tweeted a photo of himself with his “birthday brother,” who was “always light and love to me.” Mark Ruffalo stated that “the tragedies amassing this year have only been made more profound” by this loss. Zoe Saldana wrote of her children, “I’m gonna have to tell Cy, Bowie and Zen that T’Challa has passed. What other king can I tell them about now?” Chris Evans said he was “absolutely devastated.”
Angela Bassett, who played T’Challa’s mother, recalled Boseman telling her during the “Black Panther” premiere party that he had been the student to escort her when she received an honorary degree from Howard.
“And here we were, years later as friends and colleagues, enjoying the most glorious night ever!” she continued. “We’d spent weeks prepping, working, sitting next to each other every morning in makeup chairs, preparing for the day together as mother and son. I am honored that we enjoyed that full circle experience. This young man’s dedication was awe-inspiring, his smile contagious, his talent unreal.”