The untold truth of Chadwick Boseman

The actor who brought the beloved Marvel superhero to life was also an avid philanthropist and activist. Here are 5 times the star rose above and beyond to put goodness and honor into our world.

Cast your mind back a few years, and recall that there was a time when most people didn’t know what “Wakanda forever!” meant. Names like Okoye, Nakia, and Shuri held no significance for the man on the street. And Chadwick Boseman, who became one of the brightest stars of the MCU, a man as comfortable in high-octane action scenes as he was depicting staid and solemn UN meetings? Well, people might have recognized him, but more likely as “that guy in that biopic last year.” T’Challa was coming, but only the most diehard fans knew. And nobody could have anticipated what a massive hit Boseman’s regal performance would make his debut movie, the instantly iconic Black Panther.

And while the character had been around for decades, it was truly Boseman’s legendary performance as the King of Wakanda that made Black Panther a household name. And so it was a brutal shock to the world when news hit of his passing at the age of 42. According to a statement released by his family, Boseman died after a brave fight with colon cancer for four years.

So, who was Chadwick Boseman? As it turns out, he was even more interesting as the complicated king he portrayed. Join us as we explore the life of Chadwick Boseman.

Black Panther changed the world. From its societal significance to its bona fide status as a box office smash, this became T’Challa’s Marvel universe, and we’re just living in it. As the curtain fell on the character’s 2018 solo film, one thing became clear: Black Panther had taken cinema to adventurous new heights. He became, within weeks of his own movie’s premiere, a cultural icon.

But this wasn’t Boseman’s first time playing a world-changing hero. In fact, Black Panther was one of the first times he’d played one that didn’t actually exist. Before he stepped into T’Challa’s royal sandals, he was depicting the all-time greats of music, sports, and lawmaking. Boseman’s first starring role came in 2013, when he portrayed the legendary Jackie Robinson in Brian Helgeland’s biopic, 42. He followed this up a year later with 2014’s Get On Up, directed by Tate Taylor, in which he brought the electric skill of James Brown to life. Only three years later, he made it a hat trick when he played Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in 2017’s Marshall. Though some stars of the MCU might have had years on Boseman, career-wise, no one had more experience playing heroes.

Given that he had achieved the peak of actorly ambitions, it might be surprising to learn that Boseman actually spent much of his life wanting to be behind the camera instead of in front of it. His original aspirations, in fact, didn’t even involve the camera at all — only a pen, some paper, and his own imagination. Boseman began his life in the performing arts as a playwright, writing and staging his first play in high school.

It was a deeply personal piece — the story of a basketball teammate who’d been shot and killed while they were still in school. Entitled Crossroads, the play wasn’t just a statement for Boseman, but a guiding light. “I just had a feeling that this was something that was calling me,” he told Rolling Stone. “Suddenly, playing basketball wasn’t as important.” Years later, his play Deep Azure would go on to be performed by professional theater companies and even win a few awards.

Writing wasn’t the only experience Boseman had on the creative side of the performing arts. He also nurtured a deep and abiding interest in being a director, and in fact began to study acting in order to better relate to the actors he believed he’d be working with in a very different capacity. His college degree was a testament to this ambition: he graduated from Howard University in 2000 with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in directing.

“I really only started acting because I wanted to know what the actors were doing, how to communicate with the actors. And then I realized I’m supposed to do all of it,” Boseman remarked in a radio interview with New York’s Power 105.1. He went on to study the craft from every angle possible, including a stint at the world-famous Oxford University. And while Boseman’s acting talents were a delight for audiences everywhere to enjoy, we can only imagine what the world of art, theater, and cinema might’ve lost as his life was cut short before he could flex his writing and directorial muscles once again.

Connections are key in any industry, and can be a tremendously positive force in providing for an actor’s big break. How can anyone, let alone someone pursuing the arts, navigate such stormy seas alone? Mentorship is particularly key to ensuring the future of any given artform. Only through the passing-down of wisdom from an experienced group to their neophytes can any craft, community, or pursuit build a foundation and all that lies atop it.

Boseman had a few mentors, but veteran actor Phylicia Rashad stands out as a particularly meaningful one. Rashad has a massive treasure trove of experience to share: From her starring role as Clair Huxtable on The Cosby Show to her Tony-winning performance in A Raisin in the Sun, Rashad is a grand dame and an accomplished teacher. Rashad and Boseman met at Howard, where she served as one of his professors. “We were just trying to aspire to her excellence,” Boseman recalled to Rolling Stone. Nearly 20 years later, we’d say he’s made that goal a reality.

Teaching is one of the most everyday acts of heroism around. From something so tiny as a parent teaching their child how to tie their shoelaces to esteemed professors passing down the work of ages, no civilization would have gotten anywhere without people willing to teach others.

Boseman himself had participated in this long and noble tradition, working, naturally, in the world of drama. Back in 2014, the Michigan Chronicle profiled Boseman as a “star on the rise,” paying special attention to his tenure at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. There, he worked as a drama instructor as part of the Schomburg Junior Scholars program, and continued to highlight its important work in his new capacity as a world-famous movie star. It just goes to prove the old adage wrong — those who can absolutely do teach, and often grow from the experience.

Any road can be rocky, but few are more harrowing than that of an actor. One great audition can loft you into the heights of success, fame, and glory — but one terrible audition can doom you forever. Many begin as starry-eyed optimists, certain their big break is around the corner, only to crash and burn a scant few years later as scarred cynics. Hopes are tested, and resilience must build. Only through fortitude can a career in the dramatic arts be accomplished.

Boseman knows this better than most. Before he was cast as Jackie Robinson in 42, he was, in fact, thinking of giving up on acting altogether. “Nobody had called me. Nobody had told me anything. I had gone in for it 100 percent, but there was no reason for me to think I’d done well,” he told GQ in 2014. He came perilously close to giving up on acting altogether, until he landed the role of Robinson and the skies began to clear. Given that this interview happened before he was cast in what would become his biggest role by far, even then he didn’t realize how much higher he was going to climb.

One of the greatest strengths of Black Panther is its villain. Killmonger is the kind of man who will let nothing get in the way of his goals, to the point of shooting his girlfriend, upending a country’s government, and working with the most unscrupulous possible criminals. But, well, he did have some good points. By the end of the film, in fact, Killmonger has even managed to halfway convince T’Challa of the righteousness of his aims. Though T’Challa in no way condones his methods or carries out Killmonger’s vision, he does concede that Wakanda owes the world its shelter and knowledge, and he ends the film by taking strides towards making that a reality.

It’s only appropriate, then, that T’Challa and Killmonger’s actors also share a bit of history in common. Before they were facing off in the deepest pits of the vibranium mines, Boseman and Michael B. Jordan shared the role of Reggie Porter Montgomery, a young gang member on All My Children. There’s little record of Boseman’s time on the show because he quit in frustration with what he saw as a narrow, cliched role — and so it passed to Jordan, who made it his own. Years later, they’d meet again in circumstances neither could have ever imagined.

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The Untold Story of Supreme Style Mary Wilson, a founding member of the rock trio, is ready for her fashion close-up.

Sean Spicer, the former White House press secretary, is not the only contestant on the new season of “Dancing With the Stars” with a special kind of celebrity wattage.

Mary Wilson, a founding member of the Supremes, is also a competitor — at age 75. Viewers should get ready for liberal lashings of old-school dazzle and a sense of déjà vu. There is barely a black female pop act — Destiny’s Child, Janet Jackson, Janelle Monáe, Solange Knowles — (let alone a white one) that hasn’t taken a page from the Supremes look book.

“Millennials love our style,” Ms. Wilson said during a recent interview in London. For anyone wondering why this younger generation has joined older fans of the group’s look, a new book, “Supreme Glamour,” out just in time for the show, makes it all clear. The volume chronicles how the Supremes in their original incarnation (Diana Ross, Ms. Wilson and Florence Ballard) and in their later form as Diana Ross and the Supremes (or DRATS) became agents of cultural change in the 1960s, breaking the race ceiling by weaponizing fashion and defining the way many women — black women, white women — wanted to look. It has photographs of mannequins in 13 of their designs, plus dozens of concert snaps, promotional portraits and album and magazine covers. It is replete with seed pearls and mushroom pleats.

Before the Supremes, as Harold Kramer, the former curatorial director of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, notes in the book, no black act “had ever set out to utilize visual signifiers that made them palatable to a white audience.”

Ms. Wilson agreed. “Our glamour changed things,” she said. She was wearing all black — leggings and a stretch top with cold-shoulder cutouts — and one of her many wigs, a dead-straight chestnut number with full bangs. “We were role models,” she continued. “What we wore mattered.”

Her claim is that she and her partners knew exactly what they were doing from the beginning.

Ms. Wilson said that when she, Ms. Ross and Ms. Ballard were signed to Motown Records in 1961, they already had style. “They had a lot to work with,” she said. “As Maxime Powell, who ran the label’s famous finishing school, used to say: ‘You girls are diamonds in the rough. We are just here to polish you.’”

Ms. Wilson remembered that one of the earliest Supremes dresses, with a fitted bodice and stiff balloon skirt, “Diana and I sewed from Butterick patterns.”

When the Supremes broke in 1964, black singers like Lena Horne and Eartha Kitt performed in deliberately seductive evening dresses, but they were older, solo artists. Ms. Wilson and her colleagues were barely out of their teens and wielded the visual power of three, often in grown-up second-skin gowns freighted with beads and sequins.

DRATS maximized the look with increasingly baroque confections, some with improbable wings and trompe l’oeil jewelry, like paste crystals sewn into the neckline. Anyone who saw them live will recall the frisson produced by such young women in such sophisticated designs. Then, just when you thought you had them figured out, they turned up on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1969 in fantastical, swishing ponchos and pants seemingly made of dégradé tinsel.

For Whoopi Goldberg, writing in the foreword of Ms. Wilson’s book, the Supremes “were three of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. These were brown women as they had never, ever been seen before on national television.”

Ms. Goldberg said she was encouraged to think that “I too could be

well-spoken, tall, majestic, an emissary of black folks” who, like the Supremes, “came from the projects.”

Oprah Winfrey had similar memories, as recounted in “Diana Ross: A Biography” by J. Randy Taraborrelli. “You never saw anything like it in the 1960s — three women of color who were totally empowered, creative, imaginative,” she is quoted as saying. As a 10-year-old black girl “to see the Supremes and know that it was possible to be like them, that black people could do THAT …”


The Marathon Continues: How Nipsey Hussle’s Vision for L.A. Will Live On

“I don’t ever make moves under pressure,” Nipsey Hussle explained to me back in February 2018. His final album, Victory Lap, had been out for less than a week, and he was stopping by New York City for an on-camera interview. The early numbers were looking good on his latest release. Last time that he checked, the project—which would eventually be nominated for a Best Rap Album Grammy—was headed for a top 5 debut.

On one level, the title Victory Lap represented the third installment of his Marathon trilogy. But as he savored the moment, reflecting on his accomplishments to date, Nip unpacked the words more fully. “We was able to become real successful in the mixtape space,” he said, sipping a cup of tea. “And obviously we announced the partnership with Atlantic Records. We established businesses and built an ecosystem around the music with the Marathon Store, with the Marathon Clothing, with the Marathon Agency. One of the things [Victory Lap] means to me now, when I think about it, is being able to stand up in the game. Being clear that Nipsey Hussle has a clear lane in the game, and built it, and took the stairs. We had opportunities to be assisted, but chose to do it on our own.”

In the weeks since Ermias Joseph Asghedom’s senseless murder, his legacy has come into sharper focus. If anything, the man known to many as “Neighborhood Nip” downplayed his impact as an entrepreneur and community leader during our conversation. Any misconceptions have been erased by his memorial service at the Staples Center, not to mention his hearse’s heroic last ride down a street that would soon be renamed in his honor. The intersection of Crenshaw Boulevard and West Slauson Avenue—where he came up hustling, invested millions, and ultimately lost his life—will henceforth be known as Ermias “Nipsey Hussle” Asghedom Square.

The all-too-familiar rap star narrative of diversifying into new business ventures while turning one’s back on the streets that raised him did not apply to Nipsey Hussle. He had a vision that went way beyond handing out turkeys on Thanksgiving. Nipsey was extremely involved in his local community, founding and supporting numerous L.A. businesses and organizations. According to some estimates, the businesses he and his partners built employed over 40,000 people, many of them ex-convicts who might have had difficulty finding a job elsewhere. From the co-working space Vector90 (a business incubator with built-in STEM academy) to local ventures (a FatBurger partnership, Steve’s Barber Shop, Elite Human Hair, the World on Wheels skating rink, and more), Nipsey Hussle put on for his city like no other rapper in history.

Nipsey was just getting started. Plans had been drawn up to open a six-story residential building atop his smart store with a light-rail train connecting the area he dubbed “Destination Crenshaw” to LAX. More than just meeting with LAPD officials to discuss curtailing gang violence, Hussle was also planning to visit Washington D.C. along with T.I. and their business associate Dave Gross for a series of meetings with Congress to discuss the nationwide rollout of Vector90 as part of a larger initiative called Our Opportunity. There was a lot of important work left to be done, which helps explain the widespread sense of outrage at his untimely death.

Back in February 2018, Nipsey spoke about how he dealt with one of the most difficult times in his career, between the end of his deal with Epic Records and the game-changing rollout of his 2013 Crenshaw mixtape, which he famously sold for $100 apiece. “Real-life things,” is what he said he was going through at the time. “Street shit that never really got written about, ’cause it doesn’t belong on the front page. My brother going to jail. Us getting raided. Us having real war in the streets.”

At times like these, this son of an Eritrean immigrant evoked a Red Sea metaphor that may be helpful today. “I tell my daughter don’t let the water in the boat,” Nipsey said. “The boat’ll never go down if you don’t let the water in the boat. And that’s just water—you know what I’m sayin? That’s just rough seas. We got a destination. We trying to get across the ocean to the other country, or to whatever land on the other side of this water. All that other shit, you go straight through the waves. Just don’t let the water in the boat.”

Over the past few weeks, I spoke with some of Nipsey’s family members and inner circle about their plans to carry his legacy forward. Having spent years living and working alongside this visionary artist, thinker, activist and entrepreneur, they were all used to life in Marathon mode. Even as they fought back tears, they all agreed that this particular marathon will continue.