The man with a manifesto: how Chadwick Boseman changed film for ever

The man with a manifesto: how Chadwick Boseman changed film for everAugust 30, 2020

Much has been written about the late actor’s appreciation of his work’s significance. But this is to underestimate both the agency and far-sighted initiative that made his short career so revolutionary

Chadwick Boseman began his career playing African American icons and pioneers; he ends it as one himself. His career has been cut tragically short, but his achievements, as an actor and as a cultural force, will surely prove to be as heroic as those of the characters he portrayed. At the very least, he leaves the film-making landscape looking very different to how it was when he entered it.

Boseman’s talents extended to not only inhabiting his roles but choosing them, too. As he once put it, he had a “manifesto”. From the outset, he was aware of the kind of stories he wanted to tell, even if it took a decade of soaps and TV parts to get there. His breakthrough was the 2013 movie 42, in which he played a genuine American legend: Jackie Robinson, the first significant black player in major league baseball. It was a slightly by-the-numbers sports biopic, but a story well worth retelling: how Robinson overcame racial animosity from much of the white-dominated postwar establishment, even his own Brooklyn Dodgers teammates, who signed a petition refusing to play with him. Manager Harrison Ford tells Robinson he wasn’t chosen because he was the sportsman, but because he had the strength of character to not fight back.

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