On 28 August, fans across the world were shocked to learn that Chadwick Boseman – the eponymous star of Black Panther, the first superhero movie to ever be nominated for a best picture Oscar – had sadly lost his life to colon cancer. He was 43.
The news triggered an outpouring of grief on social media, as people reflected on Boseman’s extraordinary talent, his career-shaping performances (prior to the cultural phenomenon that was Black Panther, he provided audiences with a series of diverse portrayals of American heroes), and his enduring legacy.
Indeed, as Michelle Obama herself noted in an emotionally-charged Instagram post: “There’s a reason he could play Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, and King T’Challa with such captivating depth and honesty. He, too, knew what it meant to truly persevere. He, too, knew that real strength starts inside. And he, too, belongs right there with them as a hero – for Black kids and for all of our kids.
“There’s no better gift with which to grace our world.”
Among the many messages of condolence, though, were those publicly calling for Boseman’s Black Panther co-stars to “pay tribute to their fallen king”. To comment publicly on his passing.
And to share their very personal grief with the world.
However, Boseman’s on-screen love interest (and real-life friend) Lupita Nyong’o has yet to share her own tribute, and as such the actor has become a particular focus for online trolls, with some even going so far as to suggest that her silence smacks of disrespect.
Of course, it should be abundantly clear by now that it’s impossible to know how someone is truly feeling. That the outside doesn’t always reflect what’s going on inside someone’s head and heart. That grief, above all else, is messy and confusing and uniquely individual to the person experiencing it.
More important than all of this, though? That Nyong’o’s grief is hers and hers alone. If she wants to go public with it, that should be her choice: if she wants to take the time to process what’s happened, to spend time with loved ones, to nurse her heart away from the glare of the internet, she should absolutely feel able to do so without fear of judgement from strangers.
Or, as one social media user put it: “Please don’t pressure Lupita, Danai [Gurira], Letitia [Wright], Michael [B Jordan] and Ryan [Coogler] into saying anything about Chadwick’s passing. They’ll speak when they’re ready. In fact, they don’t even have to say anything.
“Let them grieve in peace.”
As previously noted by Stylist, everyone mourns death in different ways at different times. Some feel able to do so publicly via social media, finding support and solace in the digital presence of others. Some, though, prefer to deal with their emotions privately: to take stock of what’s happened, to lean into their emotions, and to take some time to heal.
Absolutely neither of these ways is ‘wrong’, and to imply otherwise isn’t just misinformed: it’s spiteful. Because, by placing expectations of what grief should look like on those mourning, we’re piling on guilt and pressure, all of which may prevent people from processing their own feelings.
“Your grief is your own,” notes clinical professional counsellor Nick Frye in his article Self-Care in Grief: The Myth of Keeping Busy. “Every relationship is unique and therefore we all have our own unique experience with grief… even a well-meaning friend who has had a parallel loss does not know how you feel.
“What we all do share is the experience of a broken heart because we lost someone/thing we love.”
With that in mind, then, let’s all try to be a little more understanding of what Nyong’o and all those who loved Boseman are going through. They are hurting right now, and their hearts are aching, so let’s stop piling pressure on them to say and do anything. Let’s definitely stop piling shame upon them, too.
Instead, we must seek to channel empathy, kindness, and support.
Because that, more than anything else, is what everyone in this world needs right now.