Chadwick Boseman didn’t want to make people comfortable.Not even himself. And so, the celebrated actor and star of Black Panther, who died last Friday after a four-year battle with colon cancer at age 43, put his foot down when Marvel Studios balked over his practiced African accent in his portrayal of T’Challa, warrior king of Wakanda.
“They felt that it was maybe too much for an audience to take,” Boseman said in a 2018 interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “I was like, ‘No, this is such an important factor that if we lose this right now, what else are we gonna throw away for the sake of making people feel comfortable?'”
The accent probably made Boseman himself uncomfortable, too. In a eulogy piece on Marvel.com, Black Panther director Ryan Coogler said Boseman learned Xhosa on the set of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War because it was the native tongue of actor John Kani, who played his father, T’Chaka.
Boseman knew what was at stake, and it was more than how one actor did his job. An African superhero speaking with a colonized accent wouldn’t just be unfaithful to the comics (in the Marvel Universe, Wakanda was never invaded and none of its people were subject to slavery), it would enable a hurtful implication — Your king was conquered — to resonate in a monumental movie.
What would Black Panther have been if T’Challa, a king people depend upon, did not speak like his people? Boseman knew the answer and fought against it. Though not literally a prince, the Howard University alum’s magnetic presence and thoughtful considerations — all on behalf of authenticity to himself, to his people, to his culture — made him worthy of nobility.