Some of us have this unknowing or unwilling attachment to public figures and we only realise this when we find ourselves defending them in public or mourning their death.
This is what happened when the news of versatile actor Chadwick Boseman’s death was brought to me. I couldn’t help but see myself struggling to handle so much sad news lately. That the ‘Black Panther’ was taken away from us.
I think there is a consensus that 2020 has been a year that many of us would like to forget. Between a pandemic, and fighting for black lives and our voices to be heard, we are mentally drained.
The family statement detailed that he was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016 but in that period, he made remarkable movies.
His calibre is top tier, from portraying legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson in 42, James Brown in Get on Up and then landing what many called his “breakthrough” role as Marvel’s first lead black superhero in Black Panther.
The movie means a lot to the black community.
Tears welled up as I remembered how much impact the movie had on young black children as they resonated with characters that looked like them.
We dressed up in our traditional African outfits, as we ulei into cinemas, excited to finally seeing representation we’ve been asking for in big-budget movies.
After watching the film I remember how people cried as they walked out, happy tears, finally African representation done right. Those memories will stay for a lifetime for many people across the continent and the world.
I think the added sadness comes with the fact that we had no idea Boseman was battling cancer – only his close friends and family knew.
We were not prepared for his passing nor did we have him in our thoughts while he was fighting for his life.
Pictures circulated online of him looking thinner. People thought maybe he was prepping for a movie, others made fun of how much weight he lost. How unfortunate those comments look now.
Our timelines have been flooded of pictures of children crying, posts from costars and industry insiders trying to grapple the loss. The common denominator is how this passing has hit us all differently.
Some of the reaction reminds me of the death of Princess Diana. I was very young when that happened and have no recollection of the news. But I always remember the sadness of her passing through my mother, particularly when she watches all those specials about Diana’s life. The sadness in her eyes is still very much still present and for many royal watchers. The saying the “people’s princess” is very much true.
We don’t know these celebrities, they don’t know us, but it is the emotional attachment we have on their body of work, the romanticisation of their lifestyle, who they are and what we make them mean to us.
Boseman wasn’t just King T’Challa, he was a delineation of cultivating a narrative that proudly shows off black people and a start of more representation across our screens.
Costar Angela Bassett poignantly said: “So I pay tribute to a beautiful spirit, a consummate artist, a soulful brother. ‘Thou are not dead but flown afar.’ All you possessed, Chadwick, you freely gave. Rest now, sweet prince.”