Why Representation In The Form Of Black Heroes In TV And Film Is Important
Chadwick was a hero playing other heroes.
September 09, 2020 at 8:45 pm
Chadwick Boseman breathed life into some of the most legendary figures of our time. Some were based in fact and others born from fiction, but they were always influential to the Black community. From Thurgood Marshall, James Brown, Jackie Robinson, to T’Challa, Chadwick used his body as a vessel for inspiration by giving the world stories prolific as his own. He dared us to dream with each performance, as he showed us that Black people deserve to be represented and celebrated.
The definition of a hero is a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities. His heroic alter ego aside, Chadwick was a hero playing other heroes. His representation in media, just like so many other prolific actors, is what changes the media market oversaturated by whiteness, but also inspires so many Black people to realize that they, too, can and deserve to be wherever they want to be. That representation and legacy of Black heroism is what the world needs now more than ever.
Since 2008, Chadwick brought Black characters to the silver screen. His legacy is one that’s intertwined with the likes of Phylicia Rashad, Denzel Washington and Angela Bassett alike. Three great actors who provided prolific performances marked with accolades and respect not just from the Black community, but from the world alike. It’s the stories told of navigating personal challenges that make us feel validated. It’s the layered performances that show the world that we are complex humans and not simply a plot device. That representation aids in removing the white supremacist veil that prevents our society from humanizing, respecting, and embracing Blackness in all of its facets and complexities. In a world that tries to deny Black folks the right to be great, artists like Chadwick reminded the world of our birthright.
I remember the anticipation that swelled in my body impatiently waiting for the Black Panther movie to premiere. After witnessing his arrival in Captain America: Civil War, I was mesmerized by the stillness, strength and mystique that emanated from the king of Wakanda. So when it was announced that we would get a glimpse of the fictional African nation brought to life by a predominantly Black cast, I rejoiced. Naturally, when the time arrived, I was captivated by the lush sets, gorgeous costumes and thrilling action scenes. I remember turning to my boyfriend, eyes misty and mouth agape, and found him in the same position. We had witnessed our people in ways that had never existed before in film.
As a Black man, I was experiencing what the little Black kid in me needed. Consequently, Chadwick Boseman became a household name, being discussed by proud Black families all over, as if he were one of their own. Yet, in a way he was. He went from character to icon in what made for an even more prideful Black History Month in 2018.
That year, Black Panther’s influence galvanized viral dance crazes, altered household lexicons forever, prefaced handshakes and hugs with a Wakandan salute, and inspired little Black children to pay homage to their newfound Black idols T’Challa and Shuri for Halloween. Most importantly, Black folks were given another symbol of pride in their community. That pride instilled hope that came from proper representation on the silver screen. We were presented with a new world of our own with Chadwick Boseman’s craft leading us through it. In return, it made us continue dreaming for more because we knew it existed.
There’s power in representation, and with each shade of Blackness we see, we move the veil of whiteness further away from the window so that our greatness must be seen. That greatness exists within every facet of our community and deserves to be shown in each home and in every theater (post-COVID). Also, when we say all, we mean all. We need more Black women, more Black trans folks, more Black queer folks, more Black disabled folks, more Black non-binary folks — just more Black people in general on the screen. Let it also be known that our heroes don’t always wear vibranium suits nor are they all royalty, but once their image is seen on screen, they become someone’s hero nonetheless.
This year we lost many of those heroes, ranging from all-star athletes, civil rights leaders, immensely talented actors and beloved singers. We uplift their legacy and continue to cherish the representation they gave us.
So while we honor Chadwick’s legacy, let us also respect and uplift the light that this man left in a world dipped in darkness. Let us all remember that with each Black person on screen, we are reminded that all of the stars are closer. May we never forget that as we admire the night sky that now has been blessed with one more star, shining ever so brightly.