Following the news that Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman had passed away from colon cancer yesterday, Barack and Michelle Obama paid tribute to Boseman’s trailblazing work when it comes to Black representation on-screen.
The Twitter statement, which has now become the most liked tweet of all time, revealed how the actor had dealt with “countless surgeries and chemotherapy” while starring in numerous films, including as King T’Challa in Black Panther.
Since then, tributes have flooded in from Boseman’s friends and supporters, with many choosing to reflect on the incredible impact the actor’s work has had when it comes to Black representation on-screen.
“I’ll always remember watching Chadwick in 42,” Michelle’s post begins. “Barack and I were alone in the White House, on a weekend night with the girls away. I was so profoundly moved by the rawness and emotion in the barrier-breaking story. And not long after, when he came to meet with young people in the State Dining Room, I saw that Chadwick’s brilliance on screen was matched by a warmth and sincerity in person.”
She continues: “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.”
Echoing Michelle’s statement, Barack Obama also chose to reflect on Boseman’s visit to the White House, saying that you “could tell right away that [Boseman] was blessed”.
“Chadwick came to the White House to work with kids when he was playing Jackie Robinson,” Barack wrote. “You could tell right away that he was blessed. To be young, gifted, and Black; to use that power to give them heroes to look up to; to do it all while in pain – what a use of his years.”
Obama’s words echo those used by Boseman himself during the acceptance speech for Black Panther’s Best Ensemble award at the Screen Actors Guild awards last year, when he spoke about the importance of movies like Black Panther when it comes to making real change in Hollywood.
“When I think of going to work every day and the passion and intelligence and the discipline that everybody showed,” Boseman said. “I think of two questions that we all had to keep during the course of publicity.
“One, [was] if we knew that this movie was going to receive this kind of response. Was it going to make a billion dollars? Was it going to be around during this awards season?
“And the second question,” he added, “is has it changed the industry? Has it actually changed the way this industry works? How it sees us?”
Boseman continued: “My answer to that is to be young, gifted and black,” he said. “Because all of us up here know, to be young gifted and black, we all know what it’s like to be told that there is not a place for you to be featured. Yet you are young, gifted and black.
“We know what it’s like to be told that there’s not a screen for you to be featured on, not a stage for you to be featured on. We know what it’s like to be the tail and not the head. We know what it’s like to be beneath and not above. And that is what we went to work with every day.
“We knew that we had something special that we wanted to give the world. That we could be full human beings in the roles that we were playing. That we could create a world that exemplified a world that we wanted to see.”
If the reaction to Boseman’s passing has made anything clear, it’s that his trailblazing work will continue to have an impact on the way the film industry talks about diversity for decades to come, and will provide countless generations with the chance to see themselves represented on-screen.
As journalist Leah Sinclair previously remarked for Stylist: “For Blackness to be immersed far from reality and into a world of magic and comics is something most of us would’ve dreamed of a decade ago.
“The socially-aware and action-packed Black Panther was one of these movies which undoubtedly changed the game.”