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Remembering Actor Chadwick Boseman

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Last night, after the daylong protest here in Washington, D.C., word came of the tragic news that actor Chadwick Boseman had died. He was 43 years old.

RODNEY COX: Somebody sent me a text. And they said Black Panther just died.

MARTIN: That's Rodney Cox. He's a school principal who traveled from Oklahoma City to attend the march.

COX: Man, 2020 has been so rough on the culture itself for minorities, man. We've lost so many people. And to think about when "Black Panther" came out, one of the first heroes that our young African American men had the ability to look up to. I've seen so many kids that inspire to be that. I seen so many Black Panther costumes that gave kids hope and made them feel like they had a special ability that they often don't find in society. It hurt and touched me so much just thinking about how it's going to affect students who felt like for a moment they had that power and they were invincible now to be brought back down with everything else that's going on.

MARTIN: In 2018, Boseman had this message for students at his alma mater, Howard University.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHADWICK BOSEMAN: Graduating class, hear me well on this day, this day, when you have reached the hilltop and you are deciding on next jobs, next steps, careers, further education, you would rather find purpose than a job or a career. Purpose crosses disciplines. Purpose is an essential element of you. It is the reason you are on the planet at this particular time in history. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill. Whatever you choose for a career path, remember, the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose. When I dared to challenge the system that would relegate us to victims and stereotypes with no clear historical backgrounds, no hopes or talent, when I questioned that method of portrayal, a different path opened up for me, the path to my destiny.

MARTIN: That path brought Boseman to portray some of U.S. history's greatest change-makers - Jackie Robinson in the movie "42" and a young Thurgood Marshall in the movie "Marshall." I spoke with him about how he prepared for that role back in 2017. And just a warning, there's racist language in this answer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BOSEMAN: You know, I'm from Anderson, S.C., but I grew up in the South. So I know what it is to ride to school and have Confederate flags flying from trucks in front of me and behind me, to see a parking lot full of people with Confederate flags and know what that means. I've been stopped by police for no reason. I've been called boy and nigger and everything else that you could imagine. Along with the great hospitality that is in the South, that is part of it.

And so I understand what it is to exist in that space and find your manhood. And so I don't think that that is a thing that has gone completely foreign to our existence right now. So part of my, I guess, ability to face it is because I faced it. I failed at facing it. I get the opportunity in playing the character to relive those things and do things a different way.

MARTIN: That was actor Chadwick Boseman speaking to us in 2017. He died yesterday from colon cancer at the age of 43.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THE STARS")

KENDRICK LAMAR: (Singing) Love, let's talk about love. Is it anything and everything you hoped for? Or do the feeling haunt you? I know the feeling haunt you.

SZA: (Singing) This may be the night that my dreams might let me know all the stars are closer, all the stars are closer, all the stars are closer. This may be the night that my dreams might let me know all the stars are closer, all the stars are closer, all the stars are closer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.