On Friday night, Chadwick Boseman’s family made the shocking announcement that the Black Panther star had passed away at the age of 43. The actor had been privately battling cancer since 2016.
Boseman’s impact on pop culture is impossible to capture in just a few words. From his role as baseball player Jackie Robinson in 42 to his triumph as the first Black superhero to get a standalone film, he was a role model and inspiration to countless people.
Even while he did press for his films–which included visiting children with terminal cancer who dreamed of seeing Black Panther–Boseman was very sick. Only his closest family knew what was happening with him. To the world, he was endlessly giving and gracious.
Boseman became engaged to his long-time girlfriend, Taylor Simone Ledward, in October 2019. The actor and the jazz singer married at some point before his passing. Boseman thanked her during his 2019 acceptance speech at the NAACP Image Awards, saying, “Simone, you’re with me every day. I have to acknowledge you right now. Love you.” In the audience, Ledward mouthed back the words, “I love you.”
While fans are understandably shaken by the news of Boseman’s passing, it’s hard not to speculate what will happen to the Black Panther franchise without him.
Director Ryan Coogler spoke out about his relationship between himself and his leading man. “He was calm. Assured. Constantly studying. But also kind, comforting, had the warmest laugh in the world, and eyes that seen much beyond his years, but could still sparkle like a child seeing something for the first time,” Coogler said.
He revealed how much Boseman impacted the creative decisions about the film, including T’Challa’s accent. Coogler was not aware of Boseman’s illness, which was diagnosed right around the time filming of Black Panther began.
“Chad deeply valued his privacy, and I wasn’t privy to the details of his illness. After his family released their statement, I realized that he was living with his illness the entire time I knew him. Because he was a caretaker, a leader, and a man of faith, dignity and pride, he shielded his collaborators from his suffering. He lived a beautiful life. And he made great art,” Coogler said in his tribute.
Coogler revealed that he had been hard at work on a script for the second stand-alone Black Panther film. However, fans are now wondering how Marvel will continue the popular–and important–franchise without its leading man.
Many people would prefer to see someone else take up the mantle of Black Panther rather than recasting the character of T’Challa. There’s precedent for that in the comics; in fact, T’Challa’s younger sister, Shuri, takes on the superhero persona.