Who is your favorite superhero? I was never really taken with Superman because I didn’t think he was real enough. I liked Batman because he and I shared Gotham which was very real to me. Captain Marvel and Captain America seemed worthy to follow into battle. I wasn’t sure I needed superheroes because they didn’t make me think the evil was real, that they were real, that we could fight them together.
I think Nick Fury seemed to hit a balance for me between realistic and superhero—before the more modern Fury of SHIELD, he was a hard charging SGT. Fury and the Howling Commandos in WWII—between the realistic need to fight a dangerous enemy who could kill you, and the realistic rallying of brains, brawn, and energy to defeat that evil. Chadwick Boseman was a different kind of superhero but in that same balance of realistic and strength. Black Panther was strong enough to fight and defeat the forces of evil, vulnerable to being wounded by others, and yet kind enough to draw the respect from all of those around him as he courageously made a difference in his movies. He made art come to life without calling attention to himself. He was believable.
There is a hard-to-describe part of life called connecting and when we use this to describe others, we generally mean that they connected to us or we connected to them. But a deeper thought about connection is that we and they connect to each other in ways that are hard to describe precisely because that connection includes feelings. Feelings are so complicated to portray in art, but we know they are there. Chadwick Boseman was able to connect with us through film by authentically conveying his feelings, showing us on screen what we want to see in ourselves and why we want to be in his film story. When we receive those feelings attached to words and actions in a script the whole story is given meaning and feels alive. We live through him. We fight like him. We share his loss and feel his pain. Feelings are the emotional intelligence part of us that really counts and when good movie making helps us attach to our feelings we feel great! What a gift Chadwick Boseman gave to us.
In leaving us he also gave us his idea about how to handle personal adversity in the name of colon cancer. Now that is really hard to handle from a feeling point of view. Rather than share that with us, he chose to fight it alone with his family and put it aside when he came to work as a superhero. Rather remarkable to me is that he was able to keep the two things separate. I feel he did this separation in an attempt to keep his acting choices open, rather than have those choices constrained by the chance that some audiences would reduce their full commitment in believing that this story is about Black Panther. Instead of believing fully in Black Panther, they may think that it’s also about an actor who is fighting cancer. Full commitment to the role is a hallmark of many good actors and keeping their personal plights out of the public’s eye sight is a long standing tradition in Hollywood. Some actors might have shared their personal stories with the public to gain the public’s support in the actors’ personal fight, but would that have muddied up Chadwick Boseman’s acting power?
I take away from all of this a wonderful narrative of a man who fought for good in his acting roles and fought for good against the evil of cancer at the same time. Many of his acting friends had no idea of his heroic fight. I think Chadwick made incredible use of his short time here on earth and balanced his public fights with his personal fights that may well serve as a lesson to the rest of us in humility, dignity, and even gracefulness. In bringing art to life, Chadwick Boseman understood the need for real superheroes. From Jackie Robinson to Thurgood Marshall, and on to Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman gave us a superhero we can all believe in. Thank you.