'Black Panther' Star Chadwick Boseman's Legacy

Aug 31, 2020
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SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

He played James Brown and Jackie Robinson. He embodied a soldier in Vietnam and a Supreme Court justice. And, of course, he was the superhero known as the Black Panther. Actor Chadwick Boseman was a man of the moment when he died last Friday at age 43, but his ultimate legacy may be what he left for other Black creators in Hollywood. Our co-host Audie Cornish spoke with Jamil Smith of Rolling Stone about that earlier today.

AUDIE CORNISH, BYLINE: When you think about a Denzel Washington or when you think about a Will Smith, what you think about is that they're sort of lone figures in a way, right? They are the one. And I know, looking at past quotes, that, you know, Boseman said he didn't want to be the one guy - right? - who's the third from the left on the Vanity Fair cover. How did he think differently?

JAMIL SMITH: When I spoke with him in 2018 to talk about "Black Panther," this is somebody who - even before the film had come out, knowing the anticipation and the hype and the build-up around it and the excitement for this film, he hoped to see that excitement manifest in more opportunities for people of color throughout the business. One thing he said to me was people were going to see that film and - as he said, and aspire to it.

But this is - and I'm quoting him now - also having people inside spaces, gatekeeper positions, people who can open doors and take that idea. How can this be done? So he understood not merely the power of the film for audiences but also that this film had the power to change Hollywood in a meaningful way. It had the ability to show Hollywood that a film with a Black director, nearly all-Black cast and about an African superhero would draw audiences from around the world.

CORNISH: I don't want to be Pollyanna about the future and Chadwick Bowman's legacy. What should we be looking for going forward, you know, in the aftermath, unfortunately, of this career?

SMITH: Well, unfortunately, I think what his career shows us in a way is that we are going to need a whole lot more Chadwick Bosemans. We're going to need a lot more storytellers, whether in front of the camera or behind it. We've been prodding people, I feel like, for years, for decades, for generations to tell our stories in a way that reflect the full scope of our humanity. And frankly, a lot of people have not been listening. Unfortunately, we're going to need a lot more people pushing in the way that Chadwick pushed during his short life. And I think that, yes, he made an enormous impact, but the job isn't done.

CORNISH: Obviously, the response to his passing has been overwhelming, right? And it's a...

SMITH: Yes.

CORNISH: ...Mainstream response. It's not just about Black Americans. But as a result, what is the impact on the Black community so to speak? When we look at our artists and how we're represented in Hollywood, what does it mean to have experienced this loss?

SMITH: We need to engage in more celebration as our shock subsides. I think overall, a long-term impact could be that Hollywood understands that there are more Chadwick Bosemans out here to be plucked. There are more Chadwick Bosemans out here, and it's the story of the world. Who are the decision-makers? It's important to have Chadwick Bosemans, but it's also important to have people like Nate Moore at Marvel, who was a key gatekeeper in making sure that the "Black Panther" story was told in the first place.

CORNISH: And this is a Black executive there, right?

SMITH: Exactly. Nate is Black. And so my hope is that in our mourning that we understand not merely the power of Chadwick's gift on and off the screen but also understand that there are a lot of other young actors and storytellers who are just itching for their chance to not merely take his place per se but also to, in a way, complete his body of work.

CORNISH: Jamil Smith is a senior writer at Rolling Stone.

Thank you so much for talking with us.

SMITH: My pleasure.

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