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Chadwick Boseman, who brought icons to life on the silver screen, dies at 43

Free Press wire reports | 9/3/2020, 6 p.m.
Wakanda forever!
Chadwick Boseman

He compared his alma mater, Howard University, to his own personal Wakanda.

“If you have a blanketed idea of what it means to be of African descent and you go to Howard University, you’re meeting people from all over the diaspora — from the Caribbean, any country in Africa, in Europe,” Mr. Boseman said. “So you’re seeing people from all walks of life that look like you but they sound different.”

It wasn’t until he was in his mid-30s, after a handful of brief television appearances, that he landed his first leading role as Jackie Robinson in “42.” He was, from the start, a self-evident movie star with a rare, effortless charisma. Rachel Robinson, the baseball Hall of Famer’s widow, said it was like seeing her husband again.

Mr. Boseman died on the day that Major League Baseball was celebrating Jackie Robinson Day. “His transcendent performance in “42” will stand the test of time and serve as a powerful vehicle to tell Jackie’s story to audiences for generations to come,” the league wrote in a tweet.

Since the news of Mr. Boseman’s death, the story of how Denzel Washington paid for Boseman and other Howard students to attend a summer theater program at the University of Oxford has been much retold. It’s especially fitting because it, as if by fate, links Mr. Boseman with Mr. Washington. Like his long-ago benefactor, Mr. Boseman exuded strength and self-possession. When he played Mr. Robinson and James Brown in “Get on Up” and Justice Marshall in “Marshall,” Mr. Boseman’s power wasn’t asked for or worked up to. It was innate. It was there already. “When I hit the stage, people better be ready,” he says in “Get on Up.” “Especially the white folk.”

After playing Mr. Robinson and Mr. Brown, many would have turned a blind eye to biopics. But by playing a young version of the Supreme Court justice in “Marshall,” which he co-produced, Mr. Boseman confirmed the ongoing nature of his project, one that would reach a staggering climax in “Black Panther.” Mr. Boseman made his debut as King T’Challa in “Captain America: Civil War” in 2016, the same year he was diagnosed with colon cancer. “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,” Mr. Boseman said, accepting the 2019 Screen Actors Guild Award for best ensemble for “Black Panther.” “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 beneath and not above. And that is what we went to work with every day,” Mr. Boseman said. “We knew that we could create a world that exemplified a world we wanted to see. We knew that we had something to give.”

He faced down an industry’s historical prejudice while suffering through cancer treatments. In less than a decade, Mr. Boseman changed the movies. In last year’s “21 Bridges,” a film he also produced, Mr. Boseman played an NYPD detective whose cop-killer case uncovers the department’s own persistent corruption. Mr. Boseman’s very presence reorients the story.