Thursday, February 22, 2018


Two years ago, Chadwick Boseman was in a movie called Gods of Egypt. It was not a very good movie. But in addition to its not-goodness, it also became infamous for whitewashing – casting, as ancient African deities, a white guy from Scotland, a white guy from Denmark and at least seven white people from Australia. Boseman, the sole black lead, played Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom and inventor of mathematics. Before the movie came out, an interviewer asked him about the criticism, and Boseman said that not only did he agree with it, it was why he took the part – so audiences would see at least one god of African descent. "But, yeah," he added dryly. "People don't make $140 million movies starring black and brown people." What a difference two years makes. Because now we have Black Panther – not just a $140 million movie starring black and brown people, but a $200 million one. It's very overdue. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created Panther, the first black superhero, way back in 1966, but he didn't show up on the big screen until 50 years later, when Boseman stole Captain America: Civil War. Now, after a decade of Marvel Universe films starring a demographically disproportionate number of white Chrises, the world finally has its first African superhero movie. "It's a sea-change moment," Boseman says. "I still remember the excitement people had seeing Malcolm X. And this is greater, because it includes other people, too. Everybody comes to see the Marvel movie." He's not exaggerating. The film broke a ticket-presales record for superhero movies, and at press time it was tracking toward a $165 million opening – better than every Marvel nonsequel except The Avengers and possibly enough to crack the top 10 movie opening weekends of all time. A quick primer: Boseman plays T'Challa, king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda – the richest and most technologically advanced civilization on Earth. He also moonlights as Black Panther, an Afro-futurist warrior with superhuman powers charged with protecting his people. According to Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige, Boseman was their only choice for the role. And when the call came, he was ready. "He said yes on the phone," recalls Feige. "I didn't sense a lot of hesitation on his part." Up until now, Boseman, 41, was most famous for being the biopic guy, playing an unprecedented run of trailblazing African-American icons: Jackie Robinson (42), James Brown (Get On Up), Thurgood Marshall (Marshall). In a way, Black Panther is the logical next step – Thurgood Marshall with vibranium claws and a stealth jet. Boseman has for years wanted to play the character, keeping a journal with notes as far back as 2012. "It's perfect casting," director Ryan Coogler says. "His physicality, his reserved personality, the way he looks younger than he is, wise beyond his years." "Chad gave a hell of a performance," says Michael B. Jordan, who co-stars as his archnemesis, Killmonger. "I couldn't imagine anybody else." A few weeks before the movie opens, Boseman is trying to lay low, sipping peppermint tea at the hipster L.A. coffee shop where he used to come to write, back when he was an aspiring screenwriter freshly arrived from New York. He's in head-to-toe black – cardigan, T-shirt, chinos, socks – except for some suede Valentino sneakers and a beaded necklace of Pan-African red, gold and green. He's tall and lean, with long, elegant fingers and the knuckles of a boxer. (Coogler says they would sometimes spar on set to get amped up.) One of his strengths as an actor is a quiet, intense watchfulness, and he's the same in real life, taking in the world with a skeptical half-squint. ("I see everything," Boseman says.) When he does speak, he's invariably thoughtful and thorough. "You're saying I'm long-winded!" he says, laughing. In some ways, Boseman is a funny fit for a blockbuster action star. He's "90 percent" vegan, casually name-checks radical black intellectuals like Yosef Ben-Jochannan and Frantz Fanon, and says he gets anxious onstage or in front of crowds. ("Going on a talk show? Oh, my God. Nah.") But he also knows he's a conduit for something bigger: "I truly believe there's a truth that needs to enter the world at a particular time. And that's why people are excited about Panther. This is the time." It's a watershed moment for African-Americans and Hollywood. The cast is a murderers' row of talent – in addition to Boseman and Jordan, there's Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and several actors of immediate African descent, including Star Wars' Lupita Nyong'o (who grew up in Kenya), The Walking Dead's Danai Gurira (who was raised in Zimbabwe) and Get Out's Daniel Kaluuya (whose parents immigrated to England from Uganda). And it's not just the first superhero movie with a predominantly black cast – it's the first with a black director, black writers, black costume and production designers, and a black executive producer. Community groups are renting out whole theaters to screen it; people are running crowd-funding campaigns to buy tickets for black kids who might not be able to see it otherwise. PLEASE READ THE REST OF THIS INTERVIEW IN Rolling Stone

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