Chadwick Boseman Was My Hero

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His name was Chadwick Boseman. He was an actor. He was 43. He died of stage 4 colon cancer. And he was my hero.

I don’t know what else to say about him other than that.

I guess I could sit here and write about his (devastatingly) short but already ironic career. I could write about how he was immensely talented and seemed completely dedicated to his craft. I could write about the way he was an actor in a way few seem to be; you could see the incredible amount of time and effort he put into every character he embodied.

Every role I saw him in — starting from his painful portrayal of the young Nate Ray in Lincoln Heights, to his regal presence as King T’Challa, to his intense, stirring performance as Stormin’ Norman in the Da 5 Bloods, and almost everything in between — made it all the more clear that he loved what he did. He was good at this, good at it in a way that felt rare and new and exciting. I saw him and thought he was beautiful, I thought he was dynamic, I thought he was real. Real in a way I still can’t fully articulate. And I knew I’d want to watch him all of the time.

But, there’s really no point of me trying to do all of that. Other people have written much smarter, objectively better pieces than this will be. So many Black writers have poured their hearts out and bared their souls for this man in a way that I’m not completely able to just yet. I can’t pull myself together well enough to write anything that makes a lick of sense, let alone is worthy of this gifted man.

My problem is, I’m unable to fully accept that he’s gone. You know how a death hits you? You know the moment that it sinks into you and becomes real for the first time? Where you look up and say, “Okay, this has happened. He’s gone.” I keep having that moment over and over again, but it never seems to stick.

Try as I might, I haven’t really been able to think about anything else since the news broke. I keep looking at his face and hearing his voice and thinking, “He’s gone, he left us, he’s dead.” I’ve been totally preoccupied with profound sadness.

I keep trying to process the fact that he was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer four years ago, and in those four years filmed around six movies. I’m still grappling with the fact that he kept his diagnosis private. Chadwick had every right to keep his diagnosis from the public eye. He was already a private person. It was his body, his life, his business, and we are not entitled to any of it.

But, I also know full well that had he disclosed his diagnosis, his career would’ve been drastically different, because the world we live in would’ve discarded him the moment it discovered he was a disabled person. The entertainment industry would’ve used his disability against him; his illness would’ve become their excuse to limit his work, and ultimately stop him from fulfilling his purpose.

I’m trying to comprehend Chadwick living and working while carrying this knowledge. All of this must have taken a physical, mental and emotional toll on him, but he kept doing his work because he was doing it for us. I’m trying to grasp the idea that he loved Black people so much that he literally spent the rest of his life creating art we could be proud of.

I keep trying to hold back the tears. There’s a voice in my head that keeps telling me it’s probably more than a little weird for me to be crying so much for a man I didn’t really know. It’s illogical, isn’t it? He didn’t know of me, and I didn’t know him. But I’m hurting as if I’ve just lost a dear friend.

It’s all too much right now.

There’s a picture floating around Twitter that lists reasons why we grieve people we never met. There are reasons like “Their work helped us get through a difficult time . . . ” and “Their death triggers our grief of previous loss . . .”

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As I try to process Chadwick’s death, I’m starting to realize that he exuded a humanity and a warmth that made me feel closer to him. When you watched Chadwick, you could tell he was giving his all. You could see his heart every time he was on screen. He chose the stories he wanted to tell and the characters he wanted to craft with intentionality. He made every character feel like a real person you could connect with. By extension, he felt like someone you could connect with. When I think about Chadwick and his work in this way, my grief makes more sense to me.

He was so generous with his spirit and love, and I can only hope he knew that love was reciprocated. I really hope he realized just how much he’s touched and inspired so many Black people.

Chadwick worked so hard to portray Black heroes. Through his dedication, grace and love, he became a hero. He became my hero.

His name was Chadwick Boseman. He was an actor. He was 43. He died of stage 4 colon cancer. And he was my hero.

I don’t know what else to say about him other than that.

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