Chadwick Boseman played a lot of iconic characters, but Chadwick himself was an icon.
I first saw him on this TV show called Lincoln Heights. I remember being in awe of his talent even then, when he was not a starring character. Every time he came on screen, his presence was felt. I had a feeling I’d be seeing more of this guy
He played Black figures like Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and Thurgood Marshall. You could tell he was dedicated to the craft of portraying each person. You could tell that he was genuinely invested in these stories and these people. But I think my favorite thing was you could see bits of him in every character that he played. You could see his loving, his kindness, his gentleness, his intelligence in every role — everything that’s good about him.
When he was filming Get On Up in Mississippi, he made a name for himself down here. To this day, if you talk to people about him and what it was like when they were filming, you hear nothing but great stories. The way he would go to restaurants that were just hole-in-the-wall spots, and he was just another person coming through. As much as he has made an impact on us through his art, one of the most beautiful parts of his legacy is the impact he made off screen. The way every person that I’ve spoken to who had any kind of contact with him speaks about him just blows me away, and it makes it hurt a bit more knowing the greatness of the loss.
When I first heard that he was going to be Black Panther, I almost cried. I’m a huge Black Panther fan, and I could see [him in the role] immediately. Once I saw Chadwick for the first time as T’Challa, in Captain America: Civil War, I felt as if this character had been given a new layer. He was an embodiment of hope through that character. He was an embodiment of strength through that character. And he was an embodiment of what our kids can look at and say, “This is what I can be” — not the superhero with the powers, but someone with this level of intelligence, this level of grace, this level of dignity, this level of power that’s beyond a superpower. They can look at Chadwick’s portrayal of T’Challa and can walk away with a new mirror for themselves.
Every single time he stepped onto the screen, he gave us a mirror that showed us the beauty of us as a people, as a culture. We’re so often limited to stereotypes, and Chadwick instead showed us just how beautiful we truly are. It felt like every single role he did was with a love for us.
It’s weird to talk about him now in the past tense. I’m still stunned. I know of kids personally who mourned him, and held little memorials for Black Panther in their bedrooms. It shows the impact he had through that one character alone. And I think I’m hurt more because we’re not going to get any more of that. The hardest part of his death is we’re not going to get any more Chadwick Boseman films. We’re not going to get to see him craft these love letters to us on screen. It’s truly one of the most devastating losses of this year.
I hope he’s remembered for more than Black Panther, because it would be unfair to limit him to that role.
I hope he’s remembered for his passion and dedication.
I hope the grace that he walked with finds its way to all of us in some form or another. I hope he’s remembered for the gift that he was. —As told to James Hibberd
Boseman died Aug. 28 of colon cancer at age 43. His final film performance, in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (above), premieres Dec. 18 on Netflix.
Angie Thomas is the 33-year-old author of The Hate U Give. Her next book, Concrete Rose, is a prequel to that story and is due out on Jan. 12. She lives in Jackson, Miss.