Chadwick Boseman and Faithful Vocation

When I heard that Chadwick Boseman died of colon cancer, it got me thinking about Christian vocation…

Chadwick Boseman, best known as the Black Panther, passed away yesterday from stage 4 colon cancer. The shock of this news has been tremendous, especially because his cancer was kept secret. His family revealed that he had been battling it and enduring treatment including chemo throughout the time he was filming the roles that defined his career.

Learning that Boseman fought cancer for the majority of what we consider his successful movie career is astonishing, but also shows us an actor who truly understood his “job” as a sacrificial vocation. If we assume that Boseman knew his prognosis was bleak and he didn’t have a lot of time, which is fair given the family’s statements, it really illuminates the choices he made in terms of roles.

Choosing to play James Brown, Jackie Robinson, and Thurgood Marshall all in the span of a few years is a strange choice for any actor. It’s hard to name any actor who has done so many biopics, especially back-to-back. While he had a gift for embodying historical figures, actors make choices not just because of what they want to do, but roles that will further their career. Biopics are rarely big money-makers, and often limit other acting opportunities. (It’s different for Jamie Foxx or Tom Hanks to play Ray Charles and Fred Rogers because they are already household names. For an unknown actor to play a famous person is a recipe for typecasting.) But Boseman was dedicated to telling black stories, using his gift for education and representation.

This culminated in his most well-known role in “Black Panther,” which his family referred to as “the honor of his career.” While not a biopic, T’Challa was a character that previously existed that Boseman brought to life. We all know how much that film meant in terms of representation for black communities.

And while it was a blockbuster and led to three other big MCU movie appearances, Boseman’s resumé tells us he would’ve made that film either way.

Chadwick Boseman is an inspiration not only to actors, but to all of us. Knowing that his time was short, he made choices to use his gifts as long as he could to educate, uplift, and inspire rather than accumulate wealth, status, or sympathy. He hid his battle with cancer so that he could do that good work for as long as possible. What a gift.

Extra special is knowing that Chadwick was a Christian. While I’m seeing many overplay that point, (as if it’s the only reason Christians should celebrate his memory,) it is inspiring and unsurprising that someone who had so much faith in the reconciling work of Christ was motivated to pursue a selfless, faithful vocation in a career that is more often about wealth, status, and legacy.

In so many ways, Chadwick Boseman turned out to be as much the hero as T’Challa. Rest in power, Chadwick. ✊

Theophany’s mission to bring God to light in film has another branch: a YouTube channel of video essays. Check them out, and don’t forget to like and subscribe while you’re there.

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