French novelist Jean Giraudoux once coined the sage dictum, “I’m not afraid of death. It’s the stake one puts up in order to play the game of life.” This short yet powerful phrase is indicative of the life and impact of Chadwick Boseman. Boseman was a cultural icon who, through multiple acting roles, emphasized the struggles and triumph of the Black community in athletics. His willingness to courageously fight against the inevitability of his stage 4 colon cancer through art and culture has transcended racial and socioeconomic boundaries and inspired the lives of many. Clearly, Boseman’s identity cannot be reduced to that of merely an actor.
Nonetheless, Boseman was obviously incredibly talented onscreen. He starred in films such as Get on Up and Black Panther and made appearances in multiple Avengers movies. Boseman also shone in his appearances in sports films, such as playing Floyd Little in The Express: The Ernie Davis Story, Jackie Robinson in 42 and Vontae Mack in Draft Day. His acting ability and versatility was deservedly noted by his nominations for well over 20 awards from MTV, BET and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Arguably more important than the awards he received, though, was Boseman’s indelible impact on a host of communities, both in the United States and abroad. For example, his role as Floyd Little helped to convey America’s reluctance to put Black collegiate athletes in the spotlight. Moreover, as Jackie Robinson in the movie 42, Boseman shares a message with the younger generation of Black Americans about the struggles and the hardships they would have faced in the professional sports world at that time. Playing these roles as gracefully as Boseman did enable this generation to idolize these figures as pioneers. The younger generation now sees the need to continue breaking down barriers in sports today. Adults can also gain inspiration from Boseman, who underscored the need to take action through economic, political and social avenues in order to create a more equitable and open environment for Black communities to participate in sports.
Boseman’s role in Black Panther also made a powerful statement about both sports and society as a whole. Boseman’s role in these films articulated the notion that people of color can achieve seemingly impossible feats. While Black Americans might not have the god-like abilities of T’Challa, they can nonetheless excel in the classroom, on the field and in the workforce. This critical message is epitomized by the bevy of professional athletes who elected to use the “Wakanda forever” gesture either before or during competition. Through unity and effort, Americans of any race, color and creed can fight to overcome the injustices that plague them in everyday life and exhibit their athletic talents.
Chadwick Boseman’s impact on society is truly remarkable. His ability to seamlessly and effortlessly portray strong and dynamic Black characters was an obvious talent to anybody who enjoyed his work. This talent allowed current and future generations to envision a world of Black excellence, a world in which the injustices of the past are remembered.