November 29, 1976 – August 28, 2020
Long before gaining international acclaim as T’Challa/Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman made an impact in Chicago.
In 2005, The Congo Square Theatre Company staged Boseman’s Deep Azure, a hip-hop play inspired but the killing of a Howard University friend and classmate by a police officer. Derrick Sanders, a Congo Square founder and Boseman’s Howard University classmate, commissioned and directed the play. As he told NPR’s Natalie Moore, “Deep Azure was really about heightened language and how we could explore heightened language inside a Black community, a Black ethos.” Chicago Tribune theatre critic Chris Jones described the play as a “verbal feast… with a slate of cultural references complex enough to encompass the likes of jazz-speak, Shakespeare, Hebrew, Louis Farrakhan and Spider-Man,” and predicted that Boseman had the potential to become the fledgling theatre company’s “Grand young muse.”
Instead, Boseman’s path led him to Los Angeles, where he gained acclaim playing iconic historical figures Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Thurgood Marshall, and landed the seminal role of Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Of Boseman, Black Panther director Ryan Coogler said, “Because he was a caretaker, a leader, and a man of faith, dignity and pride, he shielded his collaborators from his suffering. He lived a beautiful life. And he made great art. Day after day, year after year. That was who he was. He was an epic firework display. I will tell stories about being there for some of the brilliant sparks till the end of my days.”
Congo Square ensemble member Javon Johnson ,who became close friends with Boseman and collaborated with him on plays and short films, told NPR, “Chad was on a quiet mission, and there was a bit of a mystery to him. He was a grounded spiritual person and so connected to his people and history. He thrived on purpose,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t about being a Hollywood actor. It was about changing the world.”
Boseman was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, which eventually progressed to stage IV before 2020. He had never spoken publicly about his cancer diagnosis. During treatment, involving multiple surgeries and chemotherapy, he continued to work and completed production for several films including Marshall, Da 5 Bloods, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, and others, and made countless visits to children and cancer patients in need of joy.
In his tribute to Boseman, co-star Michael B. Jordan said, “I’m more aware now than ever that time is short with people we love and admire. I’m gonna miss your honesty, your generosity, your sense of humor, and incredible gifts. I’ll miss the gift of sharing space with you in scenes. I’m dedicating the rest of my days to live the way you did. With grace, courage, and no regrets. “Is this your king!?” Yes. He. Is! Rest In Power Brother.
Boseman died at his home as a result of complications related to colon cancer on August 28, 2020, with his wife and family by his side.