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South Carolina Superheroes: Chadwick Boseman

In conjunction with the Hall of Heroes blockbuster exhibition and Black History Month, the State Museum is putting the spotlight on South Carolina heroes this February. While some have played heroes on film, all have been heroes in reality. Check back each week this February to get inspired and be sure to visit Hall of Heroes.

Chadwick Boseman at 2016 San Diego Comic Con. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

Chadwick Boseman is a South Carolina superhero. In films, he has fearlessly portrayed iconic African-American heroes, real and fictional. Like the real-life heroes he has portrayed, Boseman values hard work and giving back to communities. Just like those heroes, he also benefited from the everyday heroes who paved the way.

Boseman grew up in Anderson, S.C., part of a big, connected family. He said, “I was raised in a sort of village. I have a huge family and I think there is strength in that.” His father worked at a textile mill and his mother was a nurse. He went to T.L. Hanna High School where he played baseball, basketball and also wrote and directed plays. There were some tough moments to overcome. In high school, he lost a friend to gun violence. Boseman dealt with his grief by writing a play later put on at his school called, Crossroads.

Boseman attending a White House workshop on the life of Jackie Robinsons hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama. Image courtesy the White House Archives.

With the support of his family and community, he left South Carolina for Howard University. One of his instructors, Phylicia Rashad, was so impressed with his work she encouraged him to study at Oxford University in England. When he and other students were accepted, but unable to pay, actor Denzel Washington paid the students costs.

Boseman’s career took off with his first big movie role, portraying Jackie Robinson in the movie 42. He said the role meant a lot since we stand on the shoulders of heroes like Robinson. It was similar when Boseman portrayed Civil Rights lawyer and first black Supreme Court, Justice Thurgood Marshall, in the movie Marshall. He also portrayed fellow South Carolinian, James Brown, in the movie Get On Up. Before those successes, he gave up his role on a soap opera when he felt the role was too stereotypical of a young black man. He recalled thinking, “‘Do I say something to them about this? Do I just do it?’ And I couldn’t just do it.” His departure got the writers to re-examine and change the role.

Boseman brought the iconic superhero, Black Panther to the big screen. It is the ninth highest-grossing film of all time. It is up for seven Academy Awards including best picture, the first superhero movie to be nominated. Image Courtesy USA Today.

Playing King T’Challa (the Black Panther) made Chadwick Boseman an international superstar. Like a good superhero story, landing the role seemed like destiny. Years before, a security guard left a Black Panther comic in his trailer and told him, “I think you’re going to play this one day.” Later, when the call came about the role, he just happened to be in front of an antique store with a window display full of … you guessed it, panthers.

Boseman knows others paved his way, and like the heroes he has portrayed, he returns his good fortune. He has visited numerous children’s hospitals and even bought out a showing of Black Panther for 312 children in Anderson, S.C. He gave his MTV “Best Hero” award to real-life hero, James Shaw, Jr., who stopped a shooter in a Waffle House. When it comes to being a hero, Boseman reminds us, “Everything that you fought for was not for yourself, it was for those who came after you.”