On the morning of 29th August, the world woke up with shocking news, the death of Chadwick Boseman. He is globally remembered for his stellar role of T’Challa, aka ‘Black Panther’ in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). He died at a young age of 43 and the cause of his death was said to be colon cancer, which he had been silently battling for the past 4 years.
The tribute poured for him across the world from the common people to the renowned celebrities and sportspersons. Arsenal FC striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang did the signature ‘Wakanda Forever’ as a tribute to Chadwick’s MCU character after scoring his goal in the FA Community Shield, while Mercedes F1 team’s racer Lewis Hamilton dedicated his pole position in the Belgian Grand Prix to the actor.
Chadwick’s character ‘Black Panther’ was the first Black MCU character to get his own standalone movie. The movie was released in 2018 and became a blockbuster, grossing over $1.3 billion worldwide. It was the 9th-highest grossing movie of all time and 2nd-highest in 2018, only behind Avengers: Infinity War—a movie which also included Black Panther as an integral team member.
Black Panther was also highly critically-acclaimed, with praises for the setting, the visual effects, the soundtrack, and so on, but the best part of the film was the majorly Black cast of the movie. Barring Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis, every other character of the movie was Black. It was also the first Marvel movie ever to get an Academy Award. The movie was nominated in 7 categories and won the Academy Award in 3 categories: Best Costume Design, Best Original Score and Best Production Design.
The history of ‘Black Panther’ in comics is also interesting. In 1966, Marvel Comics creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced the character in ‘Fantastic Four’ #52. T’Challa in the comics was shown not only as a highly powerful but also extremely intelligent black character, something which was ground-breaking at that time, among all the stereotyping Black characters used to face in Pop Culture. Around the same time, social activists Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the ‘Black Panther Party for Self-Defense’.
It is often said that both events were related to each other, although that’s not true. Newton and Seale’s Party symbol and name came from the Clark College’s (now Clark Atlanta University) mascot, while Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the character for their black readers. This character was also inspired by many personalities of the US Civil Rights Movement.
In order to avoid the similarities with the political outfit, Marvel renamed the character to ‘Black Leopard’ in the early 70s but soon reverted to the original one before creating a standalone comic ‘Black Panther’ in 1977. In the comics, the character delves into politics, fighting against the racist forces of the Ku Klux Klan. This showed how far ahead of the time Lee and Kirby were.
The commercial success of the ‘Black Panther’ movie contributed immensely to the rise of a black cultural revolution. The release of the film also coincided with the rise in hate crimes against Black community during US President Donald Trump's rule. The idea that a Black superhero can exist among all the existing racial divides made ‘Black Panther’ an inspiration for all such people to come forward. During the screening of the film, people used to come proudly dressed in their traditional African-American outfits to see the film.
The two contributing factors for this response were the setting of the film and Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of the character. Set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe which has beautiful settings like Thor’s Asgard and the many-many galaxies that the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ visited, Wakanda could’ve been easily inferior against those settings had it been done wrong. But it easily stood out against all of those with its own unique identity. The idea of an African country viewed by others as a ‘Third-world nation’ but in secret was a technological marvel, possessing the largest chunk of Vibranium, the strongest metal known to mankind (also the main component of the alloy in Captain America’s iconic shield) in an industry which normally portrayed Africa as backward, chaotic and savage, was truly marvelous. But Wakanda wasn’t just technologically advanced, it also paid tributes to the tribal and cultural diversity of Africa, with Wakanda having 5 tribes, the Merchant, Border, River, Mining and Jabari Tribes all respecting their traditions while also advancing technologically.
But all of that could have seriously gotten unnoticed had it not been for Chadwick’s brilliant portrayal of T’Challa. Debuting in 2016 in ‘Captain America: Civil War’ as the Prince of Wakanda, T’Challa donned the iconic outfit to catch the culprit behind the bombing of the UN convention; which killed his father T’Chaka, also then King of Wakanda and former Black Panther; with Bucky Barnes aka Winter Soldier the prime suspect. His portrayal in the movie was immensely lauded, and it hyped his standalone movie so much that it was one of the most talked movies even before its release.
A sequel of the ‘Black Panther’ was announced in July 2019 after much anticipation. However following Chadwick’s death, many fans are now urging Marvel Studios to not recast the role in memory of the actor. This was the legacy Chadwick Boseman created with Black Panther.