Why It’s Valid to Grieve Chadwick Boseman

I don’t know about you, but celebrity deaths have always been strange for me. Widespread tragedy over a public figure has brought up feelings I’ve never known how to express. As a rule, I never post on socials out of a sense of obligation, but I write anything I feel intensely and the passing of Chadwick Boseman was definitely it.

This particular one affected me on a much deeper level. I was in denial for the first hour, almost selfishly holding on to how great my life had been going, but when it hit me, and I completely broke down, I found myself asking: “What gives me the right to mourn? I was just a fan” And that’s what I’d like to look at in this post.

What it means to me, as a human

It’s a tragic story, discovering he’s been fighting such an emotionally and physically taxing fight for 4 years. It’s tragic and it’s beautiful how he continued to give so much of himself to various roles. As a normal, everyday human being, who maybe saw one of his films, it’s normal to empathize with how hard that must have been, and how hard it must be for his loved ones. It’s perfectly normal to be moved by this news.

I didn’t feel a big connection to Kobe Bryant, I just “knew” him in that “oh, legendary basketball player, did some great things” kind of way. But the story of his and his daughter’s death was tragic, and it was difficult to accept that bad things can just happen. And I discovered so much more about him after his death. So, yes, whether a minor or major fan of Chadwick, losing a fight to cancer is something we can all empathize with. Cancer has taken so many, it’s almost taken people close to me, and it will always be hard to hear it’s taken another. Episode 102 of Therapy for Black Girls podcast discusses mourning public figures way better than I can.

What he meant to me, as an African

me at Arclight Cinemas Hollywood
on opening night

Black Panther was the movie of the decade for me, the superhero of the decade. I’m being cute– it was the superhero movie of my life. It really wasn’t going to get better than a “cool” movie set in a well-off African country, with some badass women fighting and amazing costume design??? Bitch, I was ready. From the time the cast was announced, and I heard it wasn’t a slave movie… I may as well have bought my ticket a year in advance.

I’d never in my life pre-bought movie tickets online, but best believe I was there on fucking opening night. And from the very first line of the movie “Baba, tell me a story… a story of home,” I felt this ridiculously potent feeling of validation that I hadn’t known I’d been missing.

February-March 2018 was such an amazing, celebratory time of my life. I got to watch, for the first time, African people be respected, African culture be honored and a superhero I could connect to in so many ways. I watched it in LA with my boyfriend at the time, I watched it a second time (I can’t remember with whom), I watched it when I went home with my friends, I watched it again with my family. I wrote about that in this post.

I’d had no idea who Chadwick was until that movie, and I remember going back after and watching some of his other films. His journey as an actor was amazing, and I so happy that he was the actor I could associate with King T’Challa.

my brain in January-March 2018

He represented so much positivity for Africans and the diaspora. It feels unfair that that was taken away from us so soon.

How I am allowing myself to grieve

I had to accept that grief, whether I feel a right to it or not, always has a personal, “selfish” aspect to it. It’s about us accepting that something in our life has changed in an irrevocable way. It’s about that person no longer being there to bring what they brought to us, to be who they were to us. It’s about redefining what a part of our life will mean from now on. In situations like this, it’s also about accepting that they were experiencing pain for so long.

Yeah, I’m one fan of millions. And I’m one of hundreds of thousands who fully believed they’d meet him one day. Yes, this is much harder on his family, his friends, his fellow cast members, and we can grieve and pray for them. But it doesn’t make our grief any less valid.

He was a constant. He was Black Panther III and IV and V. He was the fantasy that every African actor had of being in some phantom future Black Panther movie. He was at the forefront of this movement, this moment, for us. He carried that with such grace and humility and honor, questioning always that what he was doing was making a difference.

For many of us, our invincible hero has fallen. And the people grieve when their hero falls. He left us with a priceless gift: that feeling of validation, that feeling of being celebrated and seen by the world, that freedom to celebrate being African, celebrate being black. He gave so much of himself to give that to us. He knew how important this was to black and African people all over the world.

He not only played the part of a superhero, he lived as one, too.

It was best put in words by BP director Ryan Coogler, and in picture by Marvel studios:

Rest in power, Mr. Chadwick Boseman.

Wakanda forever.

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