Over the weekend, the world lost a hero in a metaphorical, and perhaps literal sense. Actor Chadwick Boseman passed away Friday following a four-year battle with colon cancer.
Boseman rose to mainstream attention when he played African super hero Black Panther over the course of four Marvel Comics movies and gave a black lead voice to the film franchise.
Beyond playing the comic book super hero, Boseman also portrayed several real-life heroes in film including Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall.
I found out about Boseman’s death late Friday night while in speaking with several friends — many of us geeks. When we all heard, there was a collective silence as all of us took in the loss.
It was an uneasy feeling and I don’t think any of us really knew exactly how to feel yet. I can only speak for myself, but I get the feeling that this stung a lot of people.
It is not a well-guarded secret, but over the decades geek culture has had its issues with representation, especially with portrayals of minorities and women. It’s been making significant strides in recent years, but it still has a long way to go.
Black Panther represented a major milestone in that path in my opinion. The movie focused on Black voices and characters. Meanwhile, Wakanda, Black Panther’s home country and the setting for the film, was beautifully brought to life as a afro-futurism combination of traditional African culture and high technology.
For as long as comics have existed, young white boys have had their choice of hero that they could look up to: Batman, Superman, Spiderman. Take your pick.
But for once, Black children had the opportunity to see a hero that looked like them on the silver screen in what is arguably one of the best of the Marvel movies.
Black Panther wasn’t a sidekick or secondary feature. He was educated, refined, a leader, and above all else, the hero of the story, and honestly, a hero that the world needs right now. It wasn’t tokenism.
The movie, alongside the films by Jordan Peele, represent something of a watershed moment for Hollywood and are a key move toward Black voices getting the representation they have deserved for so long.
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.