From Black Panther to Jackie Robinson, A Look Back at Chadwick Boseman's Most Inspiring Roles
By John Boone
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Though Chadwick Boseman is gone far too soon -- he was only 43 when he died -- the actor leaves behind an indelible body of work comprising carefully considered biopic portrayals and a truly iconic turn as a Marvel comic book superhero. His performances are only made that much more remarkable knowing what he was enduring in his own life.
"A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all, and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much," a statement pronouncing his death read. "From Marshall to Da 5 Bloods, August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and several more, all were filmed during and between countless surgeries and chemotherapy."
After early days booking guest parts on various television procedurals, Boseman worked his way into series regular roles -- playing a soldier on both ABC Family's Lincoln Heights and NBC's Persons Unknown -- then broke out in film, launching the career of a true movie star. Here are the roles that defined him:
Floyd Little in The Express (2008)
Notable in looking back on the roles Boseman would become known for, The Express casts him in a supporting role in a biopic about Ernie Davis (played by Rob Brown), the first Black football player to win the Heisman Trophy. Boseman plays Floyd Little, one of the future Hall of Famers that Davis would inspire.
Boseman's breakout came with 42, portraying Jackie Robinson as a young man making history by signing with the Dodgers in 1947, breaking down racial barriers and becoming the first Black athlete to play in the Major Leagues.
"From playing legendary figures to becoming one, we'll never forget your iconic performance as Jackie Robinson and your many inspiring roles," the Dodgers said upon Boseman's death. "You will be missed, Chadwick Boseman."
The following year, Boseman brought to life another legend in this biopic about the musician's rise from an impoverished childhood to becoming the Godfather of Soul. Donning Brown's signature coif, Boseman captured his spirit both onstage in big performance numbers and in the quieter, more dramatic scenes opposite co-star Viola Davis.
Ivan Reitman's Draft Day largely concerns the wheelings and dealings of Kevin Costner's Cleveland Browns general manager as he decides how to use the team's first pick in the draft. But in Boseman's Vontae Mack -- a linebacker who confidently and doggedly advocates for his own self-worth -- he finds an unexpected top prospect no one else seems to understand. Come for Costner's bravado, stay for the goosebumps you'll get watching Boseman's Vontae realize he is the number one pick in the NFL.
Cementing his status as Hollywood's go-to star for biopics about the important Black men throughout history, Boseman is cast as Thurgood Marshall in this film detailing his early days as a crusading civil rights lawyer in the '40s. The movie centers on a career-defining case of racial injustice, long before Marshall would become the first Black Supreme Court Justice.
Where to watch: Marshall is available to rent on demand.
King T'Challa in Black Panther (2018)
Few superheroes make as impactful a debut as Boseman's reluctant king T'Challa did in Captain America: Civil War, returning for a solo outing in Black Panther and key roles in both Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. As a royal, T'Challa was fair and kind. As a superhero, he was one of a kind. The character became one of the biggest cultural phenomena of the 21st century.
Black Panther won Boseman an NAACP Image Award and People's Choice Award for Favorite Male Movie Star, as well as the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.
"We knew that we had something special that we wanted to give the world," he said while accepting the latter. "That we could be full human beings in the roles that we were playing, that we could create a world that exemplified a world that we wanted to see. And to come to work every day and to solve problems with this group of people, this director, that is something that I wish all actors would get the opportunity to experience."
Where to watch:Black Panther, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame are all streaming on Disney+.
Stormin' Norman in Da 5 Bloods (2020)
In what would be one of his final films, Boseman plays "Stormin'" Norman Earl Holloway, the leader of the titular squad of Black 1st Infantry Division soldiers during the Vietnam War. It's a minor role -- as far as screen time goes -- but Boseman's appearance serves as the linchpin for Spike Lee's epic, which follows Norman's fellow Bloods years later as they return to Vietnam to honor their fallen leader and recover a buried treasure they planned to use to help fund Black Liberation.