We first met Chadwick Boseman‘s T’Challa in Marvel’s 2016 superhero ensemble hit Captain America: Civil War and the Wakadnian king, clad in a sleek vibranium suit but not defined by it, ended up transforming the MCU, the superhero genre, even Hollywood itself. His authentic portrayal by Boseman, from comics to screen, propelled him as a symbol of perseverance and power of racial diversity against the never-ending xenophobia against people of color. Chadwick Boseman is no longer between us, but he has left behind an eternal legacy.
It wasn’t until Chadwick Boseman was in his mid-30s that Hollywood took notice of his brimming talent and by the time he got a call from Marvel Studios, he was already known for the emotional depth and innate humanity he afforded to the different characters he had played. It was probably the reason when Marvel decided to introduce the character of Black Panther into their widespread superhero universe, Boseman was the only person they wanted. “You hear people say this all the time … but he was the only choice,” Marvel producer Kevin Feige later said in an interview.
Black Panther, the ruler of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, became the first African superhero to appear in American comics in the 1960s, right in the middle of the civil rights era. His was a character that underwent evolution through the decades, proving that comic books can both serve a fictional world resting on creative imagination and still be a critique of the society, reflecting the problematic attitudes against race.
But the appearance of an African superhero in a Hollywood blockbuster at a time when the existing racial politics in America were at an all-time high and an entertainment industry that was practically run over by its preference for white male superheroes. Chadwick Boseman appearing as Black Panther in four Marvel movies not only boasted the once selectively catered character to global adoration but also brought about a cultural turning point in the superhero genre.
Black Panther was not merely a movie about a black superhero. Unlike Chris Evans or Chris Hemsworth, Chadwick Boseman had a much bigger and crucial responsibility- to retain the elements of the fictitious universe the character and his story is set in while ensuring that it transcends and breaks the default trend of marketing films with a majorly black cast to audiences of color only, rather than as part of the mainstream.
It all depended on Boseman’s personification of Black Panther, the first black superhero lead since Wesley Snipes’ Blade. Until him, the Marvel Cinematic Universe had only offered supporting roles like that of Falcon and War Machine to black actors.
And he did not disappoint- 2018’s Black Panther still stands as the long-overdue symbol of diversity and representation while being one of the most enthralling entries in Marvel’s entire universe and the fourth-highest grossing movie in domestic box-office history.