As the world must reconcile with a future that no longer holds Chadwick Boseman, it’s only natural to look toward the past and marvel at all that he accomplished in his brief but brilliant career. With his eternal youthfulness and million dollar smile, Boseman could light up a screen as both a regal king and a small supporting player. He exuded ample presence and charisma, magnetic qualities that drew the eye and held your attention. But his greatest gift was his quiet strength and dignity that left you occupied long after his scenes had ended.
To recount his career is to see the growth of an actor on the largest scale imaginable. But not only as global blockbuster star for what has now become a ubiquitous brand, but as an on-screen talent dedicated to both his craft and his community. “He was an epic firework display,” Black Panther filmmaker Ryan Coogler wrote in an emotional tribute. Boseman made minor roles memorable and major roles monumental. Here, we look back at seven of his defining career moments.
This ABC Family drama marked one of Boseman’s early recurring roles. The then 32-year-old actor appeared in nine episodes of Lincoln Heights, which revolved around a family that moves to a crime-filled area and tries to help both the community and the convicts that are living there. Though not a main character, Boseman would soon land another recurring role on Persons Unknown, notching Lincoln Heights as an important stepping stone in his career. Watch it on Hulu.
The 2013 feature 42 marked Boseman’s true coming out party in terms of Hollywood stardom, playing the iconic Jackie Robinson in his first lead role. At the time of his audition, he was directing an off-Broadway play and contemplating giving up acting altogether. Fortunately, fate intervened. Boseman was praised for exuding strength and self-possession and not shying away from Robinson’s darker moments of anger and frustration. 42 would serve as a launching pad for the rest of the actor’s career portraying iconic Black heroes. Watch it on iTunes.
Get On Up
In 2014, Boseman starred as the Godfather of Soul himself, Mr. James Brown. His characterization of the legendary performer was uncanny. Brown was electric, one of the few to be so dynamic and commanding on stage. Boseman not only mustered the effort to match his energy, but also nailed his layered speech patterns, intricate dance moves, and authentic facial expressions. A spectacular performance that further raised his profile in Hollywood.
“He’s a hard worker, and an artist,” Octavia Spencer said of Boseman after co-starring in Get on Up. “The success of the film begins and ends with Chadwick’s believability as James Brown, and he really pulls it off.” Watch it on HBO Max.
Captain America: Civil War
Boseman’s biggest break came when he was cast as T’Challa/Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Before receiving his own standalone blockbuster in 2018, Boseman was introduced into the MCU in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Sold as an added value element, Black Panther quickly became a breakout character thanks to Boseman’s regal charm and the character’s elite fighting ability (you don’t go toe-to-toe with Cap without scoring some brownie points). By the end of the film, it is T’Challa who has arguably undergone the greatest degree of character development. Civil War may not have been his film, but he left an indelible mark on it while setting up his own exciting MCU future. Watch it on Disney+.
After having played Jackie Robinson and James Brown, you might have thought Boseman would be tired of biopics. But the opportunity to play a young Thurgood Marshall, who would go on to become the first African American Supreme Court Justice, aligned perfectly with the actor’s desire to represent real-life Black heroes. The courtroom drama tackles its subject’s early career in an earnest and old-fashioned manner with Boseman’s performance elevating the material. Watch it on Vudu.
Black Panther earned more than $1.3 billion worldwide, currently sits as the fourth highest-grossing film in domestic history, and notched the superhero genre’s first-ever Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards. It is easily Marvel’s most sophisticated creation. A blockbuster that provides commentary on racial inequality and isolationism, it far surpasses the typical rah-rah cheerleader tone of the Marvel Cinematic Universes.
“We always saw it like it’s a character who’s the political leader of a fictional country, but we put it on a real continent,” Coogler said in 2018. “We wanted it set it in a real world and that’s kind of how the character saw himself, how he identified himself, as a politician, so through that it’s definitely a political film.”
Such a bold reinvention of the standard Marvel formula would not have been possible without Boseman’s steady strength. The film’s massive success and overwhelmingly positive response positioned the character as a foundational building block of the MCU moving forward. Watch it on Disney+.
Da 5 Bloods
Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods is overflowing with ideas, energy and ambition, sometimes to its own detriment. It’s a busy film that rarely allows itself time to breathe. But Boseman serves as a unifying force to all of its controlled chaos. As Stormin’ Norman, a squad leader killed in the Vietnam War, his character is only seen in flashbacks, a framing device that takes on even more significance given his tragic passing. As the ghost that haunts the film, Norman works as Da 5 Bloods‘s conscience, guiding its characters with pride and forgiveness. He is the net positive of masculinity and the film would not tie together without Boseman’s presence. Watch it on Netflix.