The Hero Behind the Superhero
Our strongest superheroes are found in real life
This week we came to learn of the devastating news that Chadwick Boseman had passed at the age of 43 after a valiantly fought battle with colon cancer. I woke up to the spread of news on social media and took a sharp intake of breath. The sadness is consuming on so many levels, it is not just the loss of an incredible man, it is the loss of our first Black superhero, it is also proof that our strongest superheroes are found in real life.
Black Panther didn’t just inspire a legion of little boys, he brought something profoundly special to a legion of little girls. Little girls whose first heroes were their fathers, who sat and struggled to see a hint of their first hero staring back at them when they watched Superman or Batman or Spiderman for the first time.
Watching Chadwick Boseman fill the screen in my local cinema I was enthralled and entertained and energised in equal measures. A Black film that wasn’t about slavery or civil rights, that didn’t cast Black men and women as villains or bit parts. Instead it was a seismic showcase and celebration of power, strength, connection and culture with some kick-ass female characters who are no less important than Chadwick, who are heroes in their own right.
Hearing now that Boseman filmed not just Black Panther, but also Avengers End Game, 21 Bridges and Da 5 Bloods whilst undergoing gruelling chemotherapy treatment is proof that he had been a superhero long before he donned that Black Panther suit and smashed the age old typecasting that had tethered the Black cinematic narrative to trauma. The same narrative that had wormed its way into my mixed-race subconscious and contributed to my own sense that the only stories shared about Blackness were filled with sadness and struggle.
Chadwick’s hero story culminated with Black Panther, but it started in the moment that he looked cancer square in the eye and refused to crumble. When he carried on living his fullest existence, pursuing his passions and invoking inspiration. His real-world heroes’ journey is so much more majestic than Marvel, and it carries with it a lesson that will surely become his legacy. We can never know what battles are being fought in the background of other’s lives but we can commit to recognising that every day and, in every way, they keep showing up is heroic.
My heart goes out to Chadwick’s family and it carries with it love and support in their time of profound loss. My heart is also with the Black community today, a community who have grieved so many losses this year, too many losses this year. A community who are fighting for their lives, literally. A community that is part of me and for who I will continue to fight for with everything that I have, both in public and through my own self-interrogation and anti-racism work in private.
Black Panther may have been the first Black Marvel superhero, but what he represented to me was a cinematic representation of my first real-life hero, my father. And in mourning Chadwick Boseman that reflection comes full circle in the most painful, and powerfully poignant way. He was a hero who was most powerful when he took off his mask. Black Panther’s power and strength and grace and spirit were manifested within the man himself long before he found himself in Wakanda.
Rest in Power Chadwick Boseman.