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Looking Back On Chadwick Boseman's Culture Significance

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

For many people, Chadwick Boseman was more than a movie star. Alison Crockett, a jazz professor at George Washington University, says when she heard Boseman died of cancer at 43...

ALISON CROCKETT: It was like being smacked in the face. I started to cry. And what I realized was that, bluntly, the king was dead.

INSKEEP: The king - he played one in "Black Panther," T'Challa, ruler of the fictional African country Wakanda.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLACK PANTHER")

CHADWICK BOSEMAN: (As T'Challa) The Black Panther has been the protector of Wakanda for generations.

INSKEEP: Before playing a comic book superhero, Boseman played real heroes like Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall. But Crockett says "Black Panther" made him a hero, especially to Black audiences.

CROCKETT: It touched us in a very, very deep part of our spirit and consciousness. It was a cultural happening.

INSKEEP: For those who haven't seen the movie, Wakanda is an African country that has deliberately stayed isolated from the rest of the world. There's been no slavery, no colonialism. It's a proud and rich and equal society. LZ Granderson, a sports and culture columnist for the LA Times, says Boseman made the character and the place real.

LZ GRANDERSON: He made Wakanda present everywhere.

INSKEEP: He says in Wakanda and in Boseman, Black audiences saw themselves, which made the movie a cultural event.

GRANDERSON: I can be fully who I am in every facet of that unapologetically everywhere. I can bring this sense of - this feeling of Wakanda everywhere.

INSKEEP: One of the movie's fans, 13-year-old Ellis Clemenson (ph), says "Black Panther" gave him a new idea of what a superhero could look like.

ELLIS CLEMENSON: It was the first time I've ever seen a superhero that looks like me on the big screen, and so it was very powerful for me.

INSKEEP: Now, after Chadwick Boseman died, it became widely known that he had played these incredible characters while fighting cancer. Some people wondered how that was possible. Alison Crockett says he was driven to excellence - the definition of Black excellence.

CROCKETT: That is the essence of the Black American spirit - period. He is that essence. We all know him.

INSKEEP: That spirit will endure, and his fans will not soon forget him.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BLACK PANTHER")

BOSEMAN: (As T'Challa) Wakanda forever.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROBERT GLASPER'S "ALL I DO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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