The best Chadwick Boseman moments

News of Chadwick Boseman’s shocking passing at the age of 43 rocked Hollywood in August 2020, and the reverberations were felt around the world. The South Carolina native shot to prominence with his portrayal of legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson in 2013’s 42, and he would go on to play a further two prominent Black figures on screen: stepping into the shoes of James Brown for the 2014 biopic, Get on Up, he later portrayed lawyer and civil rights activist Thurgood Marhsall in 2017’s Marshall. It was a fictional Black character that Boseman was perhaps best known for, however.

Boseman made his debut as Marvel’s King T’Challa, leader of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Two years later, he reprised the role in the standalone Black Panther movie, the first big superhero picture with a Black lead, Black director, and majority Black cast. It made over $1.3 billion at the box office and became an instant classic. The New York Times Magazine called the film a “defining moment for Black America,” though the impact was felt overseas, too. Black Panther showed young Black people everywhere that “society could be changed,” director of British advocacy group Voice4Change told Sky News. “[In] the cultural space of the film industry it is undoubtedly a milestone.”

Black Panther is Boseman’s legacy, but the actor was just as heroic in real life, doing groundbreaking work while privately fighting cancer. Let’s take a look back at some of his best moments.

Chadwick Boseman gave his movie award to a real-life hero

When Chadwick Boseman took to the stage at the 2018 MTV Movie & TV Awards to collect his award for best movie hero, he decided that it would be better off in the hands of a real-life hero. A few months earlier, an armed man had opened fire outside a Waffle House in Tennessee. When he came inside the restaurant, customer James Shaw Jr. bolted for the bathroom, getting grazed by a bullet as he ran. Knowing he was trapped, Shaw waited for the shooter to reload and burst out of the bathroom, hitting him with the door. He grabbed the rifle’s barrel (burning his hand in the process) and managed to disarm the gunman, who fled the scene but was later arrested.

Four people lost their lives that day, but that number would have no doubt been higher had Shaw not acted. The AT&T technician repeatedly told the press that he was no hero and acted purely to save his own skin (“I think anybody could’ve did what I did if they’re just pushed in that kind of cage,” he said at a news conference, per NPR), but the star of Black Panther didn’t agree. 

“Receiving an award for playing a superhero is amazing, but it’s even greater to acknowledge the heroes that we have in real life,” Boseman said, before calling Shaw up to the stage and handing him his golden popcorn award.

Chadwick Boseman's rousing Howard University commencement speech

In 2018, Chadwick Boseman returned to his alma mater to give a commencement speech, creating what Howard University President Dr. Wayne Frederick described as an “electric” atmosphere on campus. “Our own native son took the stage fresh off the blockbuster hit of Black Panther,” Dr. Frederick said. “In a sense, the real T’Challa had returned home to the real Wakanda — The Mecca.” 

Boseman delivered on the hype, captivating the audience with an uplifting and inspiring speech. He opened with a story about how he bumped into Muhammad Ali during his days at the historically Black college, but what really spoke to the students were his tales of rebellion. Howard students had been involved in large scale protests earlier that year, taking over the administration building and formulating a list of demands after university staff were found to have misappropriated financial aid funds. Boseman called the whole thing “impressive” and admitted that he had done the exact same thing back in the day. 

“During my years here at Howard, we also protested and took over the A building,” Boseman said, revealing that he was deeply unhappy about the prospect of a reduction in the number of colleges and the merging of several schools. “… For many of us in Fine Arts, this signaled to us that our curriculums — or the curriculums of students following us — might become watered down concentrations. This undermined the very legacy we were proud to be a part of and aimed to continue.”

The time Black Panther showed up at the NBA Slam Dunk Contest

Chadwick Boseman was a big basketball fan with a “loyalty” to the University of North Carolina’s team, a.k.a. the Tar Heels. “No matter how good or how bad they are,” he said on ESPN’s First Take (via Inside Carolina). “No matter if they blow a lead or not. Tar Heels for life!” The actor was also a regular at NBA events, and he became involved in a memorable moment when attending the 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk championship in Los Angeles.

The Black Panther mask became iconic when the movie hit cineplexes, becoming something more than just a superhero movie get-up. When Victor Oladipo approached Boseman and his Black Panther co-star, Michael B. Jordan, at the Slam Dunk event, onlookers thought they were just going to greet each other, but the Indiana Pacers star was actually coming over to borrow something very special. Fans went crazy when the NBA star donned the Black Panther mask and gave Boseman a Wakanda salute before completing an impressive dunk.

Oladipo was just one of the many NBA players who took to social media to react to Boseman’s shocking death. “It’s just too much going on right now,” Oladipo tweeted, while Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson wrote: “Rest in power Chadwick Boseman. Your legacy will live forever. 2020 man, been a tough one.” This sentiment was echoed by Lebron James, who shared a photo of himself and Boseman on Instagram.

Chadwick Boseman surprised Black Panther fans on The Tonight Show

People started sharing their fondest memories of Chadwick Boseman after his family revealed that he’d passed away, and it wasn’t long before a clip of the actor surprising people on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon went viral. In 2018, Fallon’s team asked Black fans to film video messages to the Black Panther star, explaining what the movie meant to them. “I can’t express how much it means to me and the community and my family,” one fan said. “Thank you from the very bottom of my heart for all that you’ve done, for really being a hero that we really need in a time like this. Thank you so much.” 

Little did this fan know that he was thanking Boseman in person. When the actor appeared from behind a curtain and called the man’s name, he responded by doing the Wakanda salute. Not everybody played it quite as cool, however. The reactions ranged from utter shock to running and screaming, but Boseman remained humble and approachable throughout. 

He later laughed it off when one fan admitted to having watched Black Panther on bootleg, and when one young woman told Boseman she now believed she could become a filmmaker because of the doors he opened, he asked “what type of movies” she wanted to make. Boseman later said that it was “way too much praise” when one mother told him that her son’s childhood had been “defined by Barack Obama and now Black Panther.”

Chadwick Boseman's powerful acceptance speech at the SAG Awards

Chadwick Boseman did the talking when the cast of Black Panther flooded the stage at the 2019 SAG Awards, having just been named the best ensemble cast in a motion picture — and judging by the looks of admiration on the faces of his castmates, he said everything that needed to be said. 

The actor told his peers and those watching at home that he had been asked on multiple occasions if the success of Black Panther had changed the film industry. “My answer to that is: to be young, gifted, and Black,” Boseman said, referencing Nina Simone’s Civil Rights Movement anthem. “… We know what it’s like to be beneath and not above. And that is what we went to work with every day, because we knew … we had something special that we wanted to give the world.”

The actor’s acceptance speech won him praise across the board. Vogue warned readers that watching it would give them “goose bumps,” and it was hailed as “powerful” by Entertainment Weekly. Boseman was also on form backstage, according to the Los Angeles Times. When the Marvel star was asked what he meant when he said “to be young, gifted, and Black,” he revealed that it was among his “favorite sayings in poetry,” adding: “It speaks to the fact that you have the same dreams as other people, you have equal if not more talent at times, but you don’t have the same opportunities.”

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