Word of warning, there will probably be some typos and incoherent rambling. But....I don’t care. Celebrity deaths do not usually hit me hard, but this one did.
SPOILERS FOR THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE and DA 5 BLOODS
During the last couple of years, I have called Japan home and learned of a storytelling technique used in Japanese, Chinese and Korean errr...storytelling. It’s called Kishōtenketsu (起承転結) and is composed of four parts:
- The introduction (ki) - Which introduces characters and other important information for understanding the story
- Development (shō) - Major changes do not occur, but allows us to follow the leads in their adventures.
- Twist (ten) - An unexpected development, which can also be the core of the plot.
- Conclusion (ketsu) - The ending and (re)contextualization of all we experienced.
Often, all of this is without any external conflict. For an example of how this can work, please look at the picture below:
This is important for discussing Chadwick Boseman, as I perceived him up until this very moment.
Like much of the world, I first learned of Chadwick Boseman when he made a stellar first appearance as T’Challa in Captain America: Civil War. In that role, he brought an aggression and visceral conviction that was only matched by the Winter Soldier in the (previous) eponymous film.
Millions of people around the world lapped it up (as they should have) and eagerly anticipated his starring role in the Black Panther solo film. My little brother (9 at the time) came away from the movie proudly proclaiming that he was his favorite superhero.
The lead-up to Black Panther (and its subsequent release) was a cultural zeitgeist. Many of us, especially those of the Black community, were elated to see us celebrated in such a tentpole film by the biggest movie franchise around.
My then-girlfriend, who had never seen any Marvel movie, innocently asked:
“Is it okay if I watch this, without watching all the others?”
I obviously said yes, and we hyped everyone around us up. And I anointed myself chief hypeman. Dancing to the soundtrack, and ululating on a daily basis. We then watched the movie on Japan’s release date with a colorful group of friends and acquaintances from all around the world.
I loved the movie, and so did many others. I was happy that Black people (and Black culture) were taking center-stage in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and for a little while: around the world. Japan was no different and is best exemplified by the Japanese woman in the center of the frame.
As we left the cinema hall with smiles on our faces, she walked up to us and asked if she could hug us. Through tears of joy, she said she was so happy to see black people celebrated on the silver screen, and could not wait to watch it again. She then asked us if she could take a picture, and do the accompanying gesture.
I could share far more experiences of Black Panther and what it meant around the world, but there is only two more videos that could do it justice:
Millions of children around the world got a chance to see a superhero that understands and respects their struggle, and more importantly, that looks like them. That is priceless. That is immortal.
Months later, during Infinity War, I found myself sandwiched between my girlfriend and a Japanese boy. I will never forget the moment T’Challa showed up on screen, and the Japanese boy stood up shouted Wakanda Forever! and crossed his arms with aplomb. I wore the widest smile, happy that yet another person will grow up with positive representations of a Black people. I will never forget how almost inconsolable was when my girlfriend thought Chadwick’s character was dead in-universe. For her, it was especially poignant as a half-Black woman who grew up in a society that said she was ugly for being Black. For her, it seemed like the stage was being set aside yet again for non-Black people.
I did not get a chance to watch Endgame with her, but I watched it with my brothers and hundreds of other Black people. And let me tell you, the moment Mr. Boseman’s electrifying presence filled the screen towards the climax the movie...I had never heard cheers so loud in my entire life. Not even during a metal mosh pit.
I even got my mom in on the action, and watched the solo movie with her before finding her whistling a variant of the theme song in the car sometimes.
Since that period, Chadwick had gone from strength to strength and used his growing celebrity to take more roles (and develop himself both professionally and personally).
While he had other seminal roles such as Jackie Robinson (with some parallels to his own life), it truly felt like he was going to receive top billing for years to come in the Marvel Universe. Perhaps even becoming the Iron Man of a new age of storytelling on the silver screen.
Alas, it was not to be. Unbeknownst to us, he was battling cancer for the last couple of years and finally succumbed.
The world is in profound shock, and we’ve barely been able to process the news. With the benefit of hindsight, Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods takes on additional layer of meaning. The story of a young man whose chance to grow old was taken away from him: by something outside of his control. And he did the movie knowing full well that is was the most likely path for him.
It all came so quickly.
In a year where so much has happened, where the mere act of being Black is unfortunately still a political issue. Where our community has been trampled on and broadcast the world over. This feels like...a gut punch.
He suffered in silence to give ever-more powerful performances. He suffered in silence and provided joy, comfort, confidence and hope to millions, if not billions of people around the world.
Good night King Chadwick Boseman. Rest in Power.