Updated: Aug 31, 2020
Black Panther was the first movie I saw after my grandma died. It’s because of her that I know about Spawn and Blade and hell, Apollo Creed and Ving Rhames. We saw X-Men in theaters and she loved Halle Berry as Storm. I can hear her now, yelling at the screen, “Oooooo, Key, look at her!” We would watch Static Shock in the mornings on the weekend and if I stayed up late enough, we’d watch In the Heat of the Night with Howard Rollins at night. I know those all weren’t superhero movies, but we watched a lot of Black action films. My Grammy taught me to love sitting down with some good snacks and watching a great film, but she also taught me to love being Black. Black Panther was the kind of movie she would’ve loved to see and Chadwick Boseman was the kind of leading man that would've made her swoon.When I think about watching that movie for the first time, I remember how I tied her scarf around my hair, so I could feel her with me.
And all of our Black asses showed out for Black Panther. Do you remember the dashikis? Do you remember the kids dancing on the tables because their school was taking them to see the movie? I remember the memes of folks passing around hot plates inside the theater. When I went to see it the second time, some dude was cutting up, throwing his popcorn when Killmonger got the upperhand in the fight at the waterfall. Come to think of it, we were all laughing and yelling at the screen. It was a Blackity Black, Black Ass experience. I mean, we still walk around, patting our fists across our chests, saying, “Wakanda Forever.” I saw that movie 3 times in theaters and 3 times on DVD. I bought someone a ticket, an old friend I hadn’t seen since we were girls, who ended up crying in the theater. She couldn’t even finish her popcorn. She said, “They all just look so Black and happy.” That movie meant so much to Black people everywhere, but especially to Black Americans. Wakanda was an Africa we could be a part of. Most Black Americans will never know which part of The Continent their ancestors came from, but in the matter of 2 hours and 15 minutes, we all became Wakandans (whether or not they wanted us, but that’s another story). It was the first time many of us saw wealth, power, and Blackness in excess and we wanted to be a part of it. That film told us that we were all innately special, that we came from good, strong stock, a message (especially now) that we needed. And Chadwick Boseman was our king.
He died yesterday at 43 years old and my emotions are still leaking out of me. Part of this is the good sis, Depression, who makes it harder to move on from things —- I tell you, sis wants me to stay in bed with her all day today and eat ice cream, but we’re getting up. Another part of this is the feeling that lingers when someone who had been in the background of your life for so many years passes away. He was diagnosed in 2016 with colon cancer, had multiple surgeries and treatments for the past 4 years, all the while being a fucking superhero. In addition to his role as the Black Panther, Boseman also starred in biopics such as Jackie Robinson in the movie 42, James Brown in Get on Up, and Thurgood Marshall in Marshall, encapsulating these Black real-life heroes in film with dynamic performances in each. Personally, I enjoyed him in 21 Bridges and Message from the King. It was always an experience to see him on screen. As an actor, he would completely embody the persona of the characters he played and became them.
He kept his personal life private and the public never knew that while he was churning out these films, probably on set for long hours and pushing the strength of his body, he was suffering. That’s the part that sticks for me. I knew him as a fan. I knew that he would never disappoint me on screen. He was charming and enigmatic; he was dedicated to the craft of storytelling. He sparked creativity and joy into the lives and art of all of us. I hope he knew what it meant to see a strong Black man on screen, who embodied a king, who loved and was loved by Black women, who learned and changed and grew for us on screen. Based on Boseman’s filmography, I believe he did.
Side note: Not to be the person to hound y’all about your health, but 1 in 44 Black men die from colon cancer and 1 in 48 Black women. Black men are more likely to refuse a colonoscopy because it is a pretty invasive procedure, but also there are socioeconomic barriers that contribute to access and availability for screening. With that being said, it doesn’t hurt to get screened in your early 20s and 30s. I know the recommended age is 45, but Boseman didn’t even get there. If there’s a history of colon cancer in your family, you should get screened 10 years earlier than the age that person was diagnosed. Colon cancer is treatable if caught early enough. Go get screened.
Issa said she’s voting for everybody Black, well, I want all y’all niggas to live -- live long and full lives, live greatly, live like you deserve every minute of it.
Man, we lost someone truly special. Night, King.