To be the lead actor in a film with a $200 million (Sh21.6 billion) production budget, you need to be indisputably cut for the job — and actor Chadwick Boseman left no doubt in observers’ minds that he was the best to star in the 2018 superhero film Black Panther.
Playing King T’Challa in the film, which saw Sh21.6 billion spent in a production whose cast included Kenyan Lupita Nyong’o and returned at least Sh140 billion in sales, propelled Boseman to global fame.
It was, therefore, no surprise that when he died on Friday aged 43 after a four-year battle with colon cancer, there was a global outpouring of grief — from politicians to sports clubs and, obviously, fellow actors.
“The true power of Boseman was bigger than anything we saw on screen. From Black Panther to Jackie Robinson, he inspired generations and showed them they can be anything they want — even superheroes,” tweeted Joe Biden, the US Democratic presidential nominee.
Boseman had previously said he felt proud to have been the person through which the film popularised statements like “Wakanda Forever” (uttered in an accent the South Carolina-born actor learnt from the Xhosa dialect) and the crossed arms signature.
“I’m beyond excited. I just feel like a kid in a candy store,” he said in a 2014 interview.
Lupita, who played Nakia in Black Panther and interacted with T’Challa in a number of scenes, is among the people who are in no doubt that Boseman bossed the role. When the film opened its screening in 2018, she posted: “I admire your quiet, confident, regal nature. You brought the wealth of all your knowledge, wisdom and physicality to T’Challa. You led us into the land of Wakanda without ego, without pretence, without fear.”
Hours after Boseman’s death was announced, Lupita blanked the profile photos of her Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, leaving a black spot where her profile photos usually appear.
It emerges that even as he took part in the latter stages of Black Panther and the 10 other films he has acted in since 2016 (he has had big roles in 15 known films), he was silently battling cancer. His family said he was fighting hard behind the scenes.
“(The films) Marshall, Da 5 Bloods, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and several more — all were filmed during and between countless surgeries and chemotherapy,” the family posted.
Just three months earlier, Boseman’s fans had expressed their concerns after the actor appeared to have lost weight in a video he posted on Instagram. But because Boseman had chosen to privately battle the disease, he revealed nothing.
The Sunday Nation spoke with a number of local actors about Boseman, and the overriding message from them was that the actor was an inspiration to many.
Actor and director Martin Githinji, best known for his role in Sue na Johnny, said Boseman had just scratched the surface of his greatness as a performer. According to Githinji, Boseman’s immersion into any character he played was one of the attributes he admired most.
“His most notable work of course is (The) Black Panther. Emphasis on ‘the’, as any that come after him will possibly just be ‘a’ Black Panther, or an actor playing Black Panther,” said Githinji, adding that Boseman’s performance made the character powerful and loved across all ages, races and classes.
Actor Brian Ogola, famous from the TV series Jane and Abel, said Boseman’s performances on the 2014 film Get on Up and Black Panther, as James Brown and King T’challa, respectively, will stay with him for as long as he lives.
“I looked up to him as an actor and hoped to see him in many more amazing films, but that wasn’t meant to be. His calm, charming and yet intense presence is something I enjoyed marvelling at as a fellow actor,” said Ogola.
Actress Diana Nderitu, who had a role in the 2019 film Socialites, said Black Panther was more than a movie. “I appreciate what it did for the African culture (whether or not it was a true representation) and more importantly the impact it had for the black community. I personally was awed by his talent in his other movies such as Marshall,” she said.
As for Isaya Evans, an actor who has starred in a Guinness advertisement and was in the cast of local TV drama Sumu Lenye Penzi, Boseman left a lesson that black actors can achieve their dreams.
Actor, performer and presenter Nick Ndeda said Boseman had the gift of melting into a role.
“His brief filmography is the stuff most actors only dream of. What I learnt from him is to not just take any role: It’s got to be something with substance and a message. Also, I loved how calm he was on screen and quiet about his personal life.”
Ndeda was referring to the fact that Boseman once rejected a film role because it had a stereotypical portrayal of black people.
A man who wrote plays from as far back as when he was a junior year student, Boseman’s entire career was in the performing arts. But it was until 2013 that he landed a lead character role in the film 42, a biopic of baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson, the first black player in Major League Baseball.
His King T’Challa character was first introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, and his “Wakanda Forever” salute became famous after The Black Panther became a huge hit two years later.
T’Challa appeared again in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, which were some of the top-rated films for 2018 and 2019, with Endgame becoming the highest-grossing film of all time.
At the time of his death, Boseman had several upcoming films as indicated on his profile on IMDb, including Yasuke, in which he plays an African samurai.
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