On August 28, the death of Chadwick Boseman was officially confirmed and announced. According to his official social media, Boseman was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016 that eventually progressed to stage IV.
But we’re not here to focus on the sad. Instead, we want to highlight Boseman’s work and what made him such an extraordinary actor. From portraying real life people to the King of Wakanda, Boseman reminded us time and time again of his ability to bring excellent performances to the screen and lose himself in a role. Below are some of our favorite roles Boseman had through the years.
While 42 wasn’t Boseman’s first feature film role, it was one that brought his career to the forefront more. In the based-on-real-life film, he takes on the role of Jackie Robinson, the first Black player in the modern era of Major League Baseball. The film tracks Robinson’s life as he signs on to the Brooklyn Dodgers, confronted by racism within the league and baseball fans.
Right off the bat, Boseman showcases his ability to effortlessly slip into a role. He embodies Robinson, showcasing the conflicting emotions surrounding the recruitment. His performance worked well with his fellow co-stars, bringing out the tension so prominent in the film, as well as his on screen chemistry with the rest of the cast.
Get on Up (2014)
You know his music, now get a glimpse of the man behind it. Get on Up chronicles legendary singer James Brown’s life, from a difficult childhood to his rise through the music industry becoming one of the most iconic musicians.
This is one of my favorite roles from Boseman. He captures the turbulent life of James Brown, his dedication to succeeding, his talent as a musician, and all the behind-the-scenes struggles he faced. Every part of his performance hits. The work Boseman did to accurately portray Brown pays off, and he pulls you in immediately and keeps you hooked. Not only will he have you moving along to the music, but he also utilizes his emotional performance to draw out the same emotion in those watching.
21 Bridges (2019)
After a criminal duo kill several cops in a drug heist gone wrong, NYPD Detective Andre Davis is thrown into a manhunt for the pair. Along with another detective, a large chunk of the police force, and the FBI, Andre races against the clock to find the duo before they leave Manhattan, shutting down every bridge in and out of the city.
Boseman brings a different kind of action to the screen, filling the role of Andre Davis. His intensity creates a character who doesn’t mess around when it comes to his job, which also creates a noticeable determination in the character. His performance adds to the overall suspense of the movie as the characters work to catch the bad guys, while also uncovering something much deeper. Boseman also showcases Andre’s internal emotions surrounding upholding his late father’s legacy and caring for his mother.
Message from the King (2017)
After losing contact with his younger sister Bianca, Jacob King (Boseman) travels to Los Angeles to track her down. When he finds out she was killed, he sets out to learn exactly what happened, uncovering evidence of an operation that runs much deeper than he originally thought. But he will stop at nothing to learn the truth.
Boseman brings a strong performance to the screen for this one. He portrays the multi-faceted Jacob, who first appears as an unassuming person that keeps to himself. However, we quickly learn that Jacob is not one to mess with, as his quiet fire is revealed when Bianca is involved. His adversaries are no match for him, as he quickly overcomes them to gain information about Bianca. Meanwhile, his fierce drive and protectiveness push him to keep going. Boseman brings each side of Jacob to light, effortlessly switching from the more reserved Jacob to the protective brother.
Da 5 Bloods (2020)
Da 5 Bloods follows a group of four friends and Vietnam War vets who return to Vietnam years later to find the remains of their squad leader and track down a case filled with gold they hid during battle. Their story is told in two parallel storylines: the present day one as they track down the gold and the squad leader’s remains, and a series of flashbacks to during the war when they found the gold.
Boseman plays the role of Stormin’ Norman, the squad leader. As soon as his character is introduced, he establishes himself as the leader, primarily in the way he carries himself. Boseman easily inhabits the mindset of leader necessary for his role. He’s tough but not without compassion for the rest of his crew — who call themselves Bloods (hence the title). He also portrays Norman’s passion for fighting for social justice for Black people, something Norman has in common with Boseman. He and his castmates who play the other four Bloods — Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. — work excellently together to bring their bond to life.
Boseman steps into another real life person in Marshall, playing the title role. The film focuses on Thurgood Marshall, who was a lawyer, civil rights activist, and the first African-American justice of the Supreme Court. It follows Marshall during his time as legal counsel for the NAACP, as he takes on a case of a Black man who was accused of raping a white woman. He, along with insurance lawyer Sam Friedman, must work to navigate around an unexpected situation for the case.
As with every biopic Boseman has starred in, he brings the same wonderful performance to the screen. His mannerisms and general demeanor for the role shined. He portrayed the man who worked and fought hard for his career, demonstrating a clear passion not only for the role, but also for the real life Thurgood Marshall.
Black Panther (2018)
Finally, the role Boseman was best known for: T’Challa, King of Wakanda, the Black Panther. His character was first introduced in Captain America: Civil War, and from then on, T’Challa never left our minds. Black Panther expands T’Challa’s story and takes us to Wakanda, where T’Challa rules as king and protector as the Black Panther. The movie follows him, his sister Shuri, and the fierce women warriors Nakia and Okoye as they confront an adversary of Wakanda’s past: Erik Killmonger.
With every role he took, Boseman reminded us of the scope of his talent. Each and every role he brought something memorable to the screen. But T’Challa/Black Panther is the one that stands out for many. He demonstrated how he could bring an action hero and superhero to the screen, one who was also protective of his country and ruled as king without compromising himself. He brought T’Challa’s charm, humor, passion, and drive to the screen in a way that will live on for generations. The excitement surrounding the film was palpable, and I’ll never forget the feeling of seeing a Black superhero thrive on screen in such a significant way. He showed Black children that they can be superheroes. He brought a character to life that the older Black generation may have thought they’d never live to see — including my dad, who’s watched Black Panther more times than I can count.
Boseman brought something truly unforgettable and special with this role. Wakanda forever.
Boseman made his feature film debut in the 2008 film The Express, a film based on the true story of college football star Ernie Davis. Boseman portrayed Floyd Little, who played for the Denver Broncos. Before and after the film, Boseman guest starred on television shows and appeared in several short films, including nine episodes of Lincoln Heights and a series regular in Persons Unknown. He was also in stage productions and short films. Beyond acting, he was a producer and director. He co-produced and executive produced multiple short films, as well as feature films including Message from the King, Marshall, and 21 Bridges. Boseman has a completed film coming soon called Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
Most importantly, I can’t talk about Boseman without mentioning the immense impact he’s had, especially across the Black community. Representation is important. Representation matters, and Boseman brought representation to the screen, further bolstered by the attention he continued to garner through Black Panther. He brought important Black stories to the spotlight, through real and fictional characters. He spoke out and advocated for social justice. He cared so deeply for the Black community and it showed. Boseman brought so much needed joy to Black people.
Chadwick Boseman was an incredible actor, humanitarian, and person. We could always count on him to draw us into other worlds. His dedication to his craft and his community brought us performances we came to love and cherish. He was a powerful force both on and off screen, a role model for all. Boseman will be sorely, sorely missed.
Rest in Power, Chadwick. Thank you for everything.