Long Live the King

By | Monday, August 31, 2020 1 comment
The Kings of Wakanda
I generally don't post anything about celebrity deaths -- here or elsewhere -- because I typically don't feel I can add anything to the conversation. I can't add personal anecdotes; I saw and processed their work much the same way eveybody else did. Through their craft. I don't have any special insights into who they were as a person, and what I can say about what their work meant to me... well, others can say basically the same thing more eloquently. (Read Ryan Coogler's statement, if nobody else's.)

In the case of Chadwick Boseman in particular, I am by far not the best person to be ulogizing him. Honestly, I'm probably below at least 13% of the entire US population in terms of being qualified to ulogize him. Because I'm not Black. What I want to do, though, is tell all you white folks out there why Boseman's death is maybe a bit different.

The weekend Black Panther opened, it banked $242 million. However, the initial projections Disney was putting out suggested it'd be closer to $90 million. Disney started seeing box office receipts as they came in, though, and revised their estimates several times over the weekend; but even as late as that Monday, their estimates were still too low by $25 million!


I wrote about it more extensively here but basically they based their modeling on your typical white audeince member. What they didn't count on -- what their modeling did not take into consideration -- was that 40% of their audience would be Black. That's saying something given that they only make up 13% of the overall population. What Disney did not take into account was that they weren't just making another Marvel movie, but they were making a Black-written, Black-directed, Black-acted, Black-designed movie set in Africa about Africans. The representation across the board on this movie was phenomenal! So not only did the movie represent many versions of the Black experience, none of them were filtered through a white lens; everything remained authentically Black.

That was largely started by Boseman himself when he was cast in Civil War and protrayed the character as a native Xhosa speaker who spoke English with a South African accent. Both of these were his decisions to make the character more authentic. In one sense, he was one player in an ensemble cast movie, but it also followed his lead. Between his own contributions and the fact that he was playing the title character, Boseman was the literal face of Black Panther. He represented everything about that movie, including all the hopes, dreams, and aspirations that Black people everywhere placed on it.

Back in 2017, I said what Black Panther meant to Black people (even before it was released!) was roughly equivalent to what the Cubs winning the World Series meant to everyone in Chicago. Panther is a movie that celebrates Blackness at every opportunity, but it unapologetically celebrates it in front of everybody.
That roar you heard erupting in Chicago after the Cubs won? That was 2.7 million people, the population of the city. The roar you're going to hear when Black Panther comes out? That will be coming from the Black population of the US: 42 million people. And it's not just 100 years of not winning a game. It's 250 years of slavery, 100 years of formal segregation, and another 50-some years of less overt but still palpable discrimination.
Boseman was far more than King T'Challa, of course. Far more than Jackie Robinson and James Brown and Thurgood Marshall. By all accounts, he was a kind and decent man. Far more than a good friend to many, and more than a loving husband to his wife.

The Black community did not just lose another talented actor. They lost the living embodiment of everything Black Americans have tried to celebrate about themselves for generations. Boseman was able to do that in front of the world and everybody -- for once, everybody -- was able to celebrate that with him.
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Pj Perez said...

Really well stated, Sean.