If someone was ever born to play a role in a film, that someone was Chadwick Boseman and the role was King T’Challa in the historic 2018 film Black Panther. This is not to take away from his many other memorable roles, but to celebrate one of the rare instances when something becomes more than the sum of its parts. In this case, the parts were a visionary director, a talented cast, a great script and a tentpole budget. The whole, as we know now, was not merely the blockbuster one would expect from such parts, but a pièce de ré·sis·tance of filmmaking and representation.
On paper, Black Panther was a superhero movie, which any elitist Oscar voter will remind you is the very antithesis of high art. But on screen, it was Midnight in the Garden of Hollywood’s Traditional Excuses and a rousing hero’s journey. It brought audiences to their feet while crushing longstanding falsehoods about the international marketability of diverse films like a billion-dollar hammer infused with Vibranium. Nothing was more central to its iconic nature than the class and believability that Boseman brought to the screen as the King of Wakanda and the thought-provoking rage that Michael B. Jordan delivered as Killmonger.
The question was not who would have made a more muscular Black Panther, but who could have possibly made for a more dignified King? The answer is no one, which is why we leaned toward the screen with genuine emotion in so many key scenes. We wanted a person like this to win. We wanted to be a person like this.
It is ironic, and perhaps symbolically tragic, that Boseman’s passing comes at a moment of such emotional trauma for African Americans. In the space of two years, we went from rapturous escapism at the multiplex to frightening Reality TV featuring the Police. One realizes he is not in Wakanda when he must think carefully before going for a jog to earn a physique like Black Panther’s.
One of the most powerful scenes in the movie was T’Challa telling Forest Whitaker’s Zuri, “I am your King now!”
In our hearts, he will be so now and forever.
Rest in peace.