We didn’t have Chadwick Boseman in our lives for as long as we’d want, but man, did he make the most of his time onscreen with skill, passion and gravitas.
Boseman, who died Friday at age 43 after a long battle with colon cancer, initially popped up in movies between stints on various TV shows, starting with 2008’s football flick “The Express.” But in the 2010s, he ruled – quite literally a whole country in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Black Panther, the superhero role that he will be synonymous with forever more.
The South Carolina native also proved adept at capturing the fire and personality of Black historical icons, as well as making the most of his smaller roles in ensemble-driven pictures.
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Here are Boseman’s five essential roles that, even though he’s gone far too soon, will be enjoyed by film fans now and in future generations.
Boseman’s stellar and emotional performance as baseball icon Jackie Robinson was really what made the world stand up and notice his immense talent. He holds his own against a legend like Harrison Ford (as Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey), yet he impresses most in the visceral scenes where Jackie faces racism from all sides – not only from his own team and opposing players but also from fans. His feelings run the gamut, and through Boseman, the legend’s fortitude and perseverance over hate is what sticks with you.
‘Draft Day’ (2014)
The football dramedy isn’t one of his most beloved movies, but it’s one where Boseman shows how much he could influence even in a supporting role. He plays Ohio State linebacker Vontae Mack, an NFL hopeful known more for his tweeting and attitude than his playing, though the Cleveland Browns general manager (Kevin Costner) sees enough in this young man to shock the world and make him the No. 1 pick. The scene will give you chills of happiness as he gets the call that changes his and his family’s life.
‘Get on Up’ (2014)
Moving from a history-making athlete to the ridiculously colorful Godfather of Soul would probably be a stretch for most people. Boseman made it look effortless. The James Brown biopic chronicles the funky R&B singer in multiple decades of his life, and throughout it all, Boseman oozed charisma and style. And it wasn’t just an impression either: Boseman channeled the rule-breaking, music-making giant and got up on the good foot with all the right dance moves.
‘Black Panther’ (2018)
What else can you say but “Wakanda Forever”? In Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War,” Boseman’s T’Challa was introduced as a Wakandan prince who has to fight his own anger and vengeance in order to find morality after his father is murdered. But the actor does his best work as the African warrior in his own movie, needing to deal with geopolitical threats and even battle family – in the form of his mercenary cousin (Michael B. Jordan) – to save his homeland.
‘Da 5 Bloods’ (2020)
Maybe the most haunting of his roles since it’s the freshest and it also involves a man taken too early from those who loved and respected him most. Spike Lee’s war film returns a group of Black veterans (including Delroy Lindo and Isiah Whitlock Jr.) to Vietnam to bury the remains of their squad leader Stormin’ Norman (Boseman), who’s seen in battle-filled flashbacks. Because of the grisly horrors of a war they don’t really want to fight and the civil rights battles raging back in America, Norman convinces them to take gold bars from a crashed plane for themselves. While it’s a small role in terms of screen time, Boseman’s presence is so key and powerful that Norman is always there even when he’s not.
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