After Chadwick Boseman passed away on Friday, dozens of Hollywood stars, athletes and other luminaries penned tributes to the actor, mostly on social media. On Saturday, NBA Hall-of-Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote an op-ed for The Hollywood Reporter where he made his case for why Boseman was so important to his community, and why so many were feeling such acute pain after the actor succumbed to colon cancer after a four-year battle.
The writer started his column by making it clear that Boseman wasn’t the Black Panther, or Thurgood Marshall, or Jackie Robinson. He was a performer who portrayed those other people. He said that Boseman was able to bring a blend of charm and intensity that allowed the audiences to especially appreciate the work he did.
Abdul-Jabbar said that Boseman was in the same league as actors like Jimmy Stewart and Sidney Poitier. He was so good at bringing the characters to life that it was his face people saw and voice they heard when they thought about the African American heroes of their time.
The writer said that actors and athletes are just human beings, but they carry a disproportionate amount of influence on society in general. He added that some of those celebrities earn the public’s admiration and even trust, even if they didn’t deserve it. He then said that was what made Boseman stand out so much in recent years.
He added that this was especially what made Boseman so important to the Black community.
“He was and is a celluloid monument as powerful as the Lincoln Memorial,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. “A visual manifestation of the qualities African Americans strive for, so that his name itself conjures the image of a black man with integrity and courage. Someone devoted to truth and an unwillingness to compromise his principles.”
The columnist said he was also impressed by Boseman keeping his cancer a secret. He added that he thought the performer likely did this because he wanted to keep working and didn’t want the disease to be the focus.
By keeping his sickness a secret and continuing to work, the writer said he did the public another service. He allowed people to hold their image of Boseman and the characters he played, in their heads in a way they wouldn’t have been able to do if they had known he was sick.
“We saw a whole history of our people’s struggles and triumphs shining in the bright eyes of one indomitable man,” the author wrote.