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I’ve done a few of these articles where I spotlight black actors. And with Chadwick Boseman’s resume, I definitely would have gotten to him eventually. But that’s the problem. Chadwick Boseman didn’t have eventually. His life was tragically cut short from colon cancer, which he was diagnosed with 4 years ago. Very few knew about his struggles because he decided not to tell many people. Instead, he went to work, day in and day out to entertain and inspire us. That’s why his death impacted so many people. It's heartbreaking to know that his family has lost such an amazing person, and that we, the fans, have lost such an amazing actor.
Now, I normally rank these kinds of lists, but I decided not to do that with this one. It’s not because some of his performances aren’t better than others, but because I’d rather this article just be a celebration of the man’s work than anything else. Chadwick Boseman forever.
21 Bridges (Andre Davis)
Boseman plays Andre Davis in this thrilling cop drama about a police officer who has to shut down Manhattan in order to apprehend two criminals. Davis has a reputation for killing cop killers, but at his heart, he’s just a man who seeks justice, even if it means nabbing his own brothers in blue. In 21 Bridges, Boseman showed that he could play a tough guy with heart.
In an age when people are protesting against police brutality, it’s interesting to see that Chadwick Boseman took on the role of a police officer. And not only that, but one who is willing to sacrifice his reputation in order to do the right thing. A lot of people of color will cite Chadwick Boseman’s role as Black Panther as inspirational. But I personally think it’s great to see a black police officer on the big screen, especially one as good as Andre Davis.
Get On Up (James Brown)
James Brown was a very complicated man. And in the hit movie, Get On Up, Chadwick Boseman was electric as the Godfather of Soul. He even did all of his own dancing and some of the singing in the role. Now that’s amazing. The film itself jumps all over the singer’s life, and you get to see Chadwick Boseman do some pretty bad things. But that’s the beauty of this performance, since he totally embodies James Brown in the role, which is no small feat.
I actually saw James Brown in concert before I saw this movie. James Brown must have been about 70 when I saw him perform, and I can tell you with certainty that Chadwick Boseman nailed the role. The movie itself wasn’t the best, but Boseman’s performance certainly was.
You can stream Get on Up on HBO Max.
42 (Jackie Robinson)
In 42 Chadwick Boseman played Jackie Robinson, the first black Baseball player in the Major Leagues. But any story about Jackie Robinson is going to be about more than just how he was a great first baseman. Instead, 42 is about Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier and the insane amount of intolerance he had to endure in order to make a difference in the league.
Boseman was perfect for the role. Bold, but humble, a giant on the field, but also able to show the complexities of pain and humiliation, Chadwick Boseman exhibited just what a powerhouse of an actor he could be with this role. I remember this one scene in the film where he's getting on a train, and says, “Young man,” to a black child and then tosses him a baseball. I don’t know why, but I got really teary-eyed at that scene for some reason. God. I miss him already.
Da 5 Bloods (“Stormin’” Norman Earl Holloway)
Spike Lee’s latest joint, Da 5 Bloods, is a Vietnam film like no other. In it, some old war buddies head back to Vietnam to uncover some buried gold. But many of the scars of the past come to haunt the former soldiers in the present, and tensions mount. Chadwick Boseman played a soldier who was killed in combat and acts as a ghost and a memory to the men, most notably to Paul (played by Delroy Lindo) who's been living with a terrible secret ever since the war.
During the war, Boseman's character acted as a sort of totem to be embraced and looked up to by the other soldiers, most notably Paul. In the end, Boseman is not a major character in the film, but he’s definitely a vital one who permeates the entire story and drives the narrative forward. Quiet and sagacious, nobody could play it better than Boseman.
You can find Da 5 Bloods streaming on Netflix
Message From The King (Jacob King)
Chadwick Boseman played another King (this time, by name only) in this Netflix revenge thriller. We’ve seen Boseman play tough guys before, but none like Jacob King, who will mess your face up as “a message from the king." It’s all in retribution for the murder of his little sister. Boseman’s character in this one gives a beating, but could take one, too. It was probably Boseman’s coldest role ever.
Boseman was always a likable actor, even when he was playing an enforcer. Denzel Washington has The Equalizer, and Boseman had Message from the King. I didn’t know he had it in him until I saw this badass movie.
Stream Message from the King on Netflix.
Marshall (Thurgood Marshall)
In yet another biographical film, Chadwick Boseman played Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court Justice. The film concerns his first major case, The State of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell. A great majority of the film is about the actual case with Spell (played by Sterling K. Brown), and how Marshall and an insurance lawyer (played by Josh Gad) worked together on the case.
I think Marshall is a great example of why Boseman was such a fantastic actor. He’s compelling throughout what is essentially just a courtroom drama. But as somebody who played Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and Thurgood Marshall, it just shows what a talented actor he truly was.
Rent or Buy it on Amazon.
Draft Day (Vontae Mack)
Draft Day is really a Kevin Costner film, and, well, I find it kind of boring. It’s about the machinations of drafting players into the NFL. So, not my cup of tea. But Chadwick Boseman is pretty good in it as a tweeting top prospect linebacker from Ohio State.
I’m including this performance because it’s low-key the most entertaining part of the whole movie. Boseman has charisma and charm to spare, and he plays the role of a character who knows he’s the best player on the field, which is really interesting since Boseman seemed like such a humble human being and nothing like his role as Vontae Mack. What range!
Rent or Buy it on Amazon.
Captain America: Civil War (T’Challa/Black Panther)
Ah, and now the Marvel stuff, which will undoubtedly be Boseman’s legacy. Captain America: Civil War was the first time we saw T’Challa in action. In this film, he sided with Iron Man since he believed that Bucky killed his father. As the title suggests, many of the MCU’s greatest heroes battled against each other. It’s definitely one of the best films in the MCU, and T’Challa’s introduction is one of the major reasons why.
What’s crazy is that Spider-Man also makes his MCU debut in this film, but T’Challa does not get overshadowed for a second. And that’s because Boseman exhibited such character and potency in the role. He had such a bright future.
Stream Captain America: Civil War on Disney+.
The Avengers: Infinity War (T’Challa/Black Panther)
Thanos is coming to Earth and he’s seeking out the Infinity Stones. And the Soul Stone just happens to be in Wakanda. It’s a battle royale, and T’Challa’s leading the charge!
One would think Chadwick Boseman’s role couldn’t get any bigger than it was in Civil War, but he managed to outdo himself in Infinity War, where he revealed himself to be the king that he truly was. There’s a great scene in the movie where Don Cheadle’s character, James Rhodes, tricks Mark Ruffalo’s character (The freaking Hulk!) to bow to T’Challa, where Boseman says, “We don’t do that here.” Maybe not, but T’Challa was still every inch a king.
Stream The Avengers: Infinity War on Disney+.
Black Panther (T’Challa/Black Panther)
And the role that meant so much to so many people, Black Panther will forever be the movie most associated with Chadwick Boseman. In it, we see T’Challa truly grow as a character as he comes to grips with his father’s past actions and also his own legacy. It’s a story that tackles oppression, urban poverty, and the differences of being African and African-American. And this is a Marvel/Disney film, no less!
Black Panther is just a movie, but I have a feeling that people will still be saying “Wakanda forever” (and crossing their arms over their chests) for many years to come. And it’s not just because it’s cool to say, but because Chadwick Boseman made it cool to say. Black Panther, for a lot of black people, was a cultural milestone, and Chadwick Boseman was the face of it all. And he will always be the face of it. As I said at the start, Chadwick Boseman forever.
Stream Black Panther on Disney+
We’re really just beginning the mourning process of Chadwick Boseman, but there are several movies we can watch to keep his spirit alive. We’ll miss you, King.