Chadwick Boseman was a superhero on screen in Black Panther and, as it turns out, a superhuman off screen as well; he battled cancer privately while filming one of the most iconic African characters in movie history. His death on Friday hit us hard, especially the Black community. Sports superstars such as Lewis Hamilton and LeBron James, among others, honored him with a “Wakanda Forever” salute over the weekend in a tribute to his legacy.
It’s hard to put Boseman’s impact into words. During 2018, when I played for the Connecticut Sun, I’d do the “Wakanda Forever” salute each time they announced my name in the starting lineup because in that moment, I was getting ready to be that superhero for my team; I had to unleash my inner beast. I was so proud of what the film stood for, and how well it represented people like me.
Too often have we seen the stereotypes of African culture, where people don’t care to pronounce our names correctly, kids calling kids “African booty-scratchers” or asking if their parents rode tigers to school or had an elephant as a pet. In contrast, Boseman went the extra mile to make sure African heritage was treated with respect in the film, not as a joking matter, fighting for the proper accent for his character, T’Challa. He would not allow for stereotypes of African culture on screen, but rather pushed to highlight the diversity of Black culture, and the film became a touchstone as a result.
In many ways, Black Panther helped normalize African heritage and style in popular culture by truly celebrating it. As an example, after the film’s release, I now regularly see people rocking Ankara outfits or saying that they’ve tried jollof, an African rice dish. (We all know Nigerian jollof is the best.) As if to further cement the idea of going mainstream, just this summer, Beyoncé even used her platform to share with African artists with the release of her latest visual album, Black Is King. I never would have thought that would be possible just a few years ago, without a shift in our cultural experience of the continent I love and the people who hail from it.
When you think of Africa, what do you see? Do you see corruption and poverty? I don’t. When I think of Africa, I think of its beauty and its people. I have spent ample time in Africa. I studied abroad in Nigeria while at Stanford, and anchored SportsCenter Africa in 2017 and 2018, the year Black Panther came out. When you are flying in, you don’t see commerce and smog like you might in the U.S. and other industrialized countries. You are seeing natural resources, untouched land, but also modernity. It is a place of power and so much potential, which many of us are trying not to see wasted. We, as a developed nation, don’t educate ourselves enough on what Africa is and can be. It is a place full of opportunity.