“Black Panther” director and co-writer Ryan Coogler wrote a lengthy, emotional tribute Sunday to the film’s star, Chadwick Boseman, after the actor died of a yearslong private struggle with colon cancer.
Boseman, 43, died at his home in Los Angeles Friday. His family revealed that he was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016, but the actor never spoke publicly about his diagnosis during his rise to fame in Hollywood ― including to Coogler.
“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,” the director wrote. “He lived a beautiful life. And he made great art. Day after day, year after year. That was who he was. He was an epic firework display. I will tell stories about being there for some of the brilliant sparks till the end of my days.”
Boseman played iconic Black leaders such as baseball player Jackie Robinson, singer James Brown and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall before snagging the role of King T’Challa in “Captain America: Civil War” and Coogler’s $1.35 billion-grossing Marvel film, “Black Panther.”
Coogler recalled being impressed with Boseman’s decision that T’Challa’s native tongue be the South African language Xhosa ― in which the actor learned his lines immediately. The director also recalled first meeting Boseman when the actor sneaked in to talk with him during Coogler’s press junket for “Creed.”
“He was calm. Assured. Constantly studying,” Coogler said. “But also kind, comforting, had the warmest laugh in the world, and eyes that [had] seen much beyond his years, but could still sparkle like a child seeing something for the first time.”
The two were expected to reunite for a sequel to “Black Panther,” to which Coogler referred in his statement.
“I haven’t grieved a loss this acute before,” he said. “I spent the last year preparing, imagining and writing words for him to say, that we weren’t destined to see. It leaves me broken knowing that I won’t be able to watch another close-up of him in the monitor again or walk up to him and ask for another take.”
Boseman’s unexpected death shattered the world as fans, public figures, celebrities and institutions mourned the loss of a real-life superhero. The actor was remembered by many for his on-screen talent, his big heart and his ability to inspire those around him ― including the current generation of Black children who saw themselves in T’Challa and the people of Wakanda.
“In African cultures we often refer to loved ones that have passed on as ancestors. Sometimes you are genetically related. Sometimes you are not. I had the privilege of directing scenes of Chad’s character, T’Challa, communicating with the ancestors of Wakanda,” Coogler said. “But it is with a heavy heart and a sense of deep gratitude to have ever been in his presence, that I have to reckon with the fact that Chad is an ancestor now. And I know that he will watch over us, until we meet again.”
Read Coogler’s full statement here.