Boseman slammed a soap opera role that embodied negative black stereotypes that he felt ‘conflicted’ about during his Howard commencement address.
Before fronting the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first stand-alone black superhero movie as a charismatic king, Chadwick Boseman fought against roles that cast African Americans as two-dimensional thugs.
The “Black Panther” star told Howard University students in his commencement address on Saturday that he was torn about a soap opera part that he played early in his career; being cast as a young black man from a broken family who gets lured into a gang. While he didn’t name the soap, IMDB notes that his first acting credit is listed as gang member Reggie Porter Montgomery on “All My Children” for a few episodes in 2003.
“I found myself conflicted,” he said in his speech over the weekend. “The role seemed to be wrapped up in assumptions about us as black folk – hardly any positivity.”
Boseman said he was fired after expressing his concerns about the character to the show’s executives, even though he had been praised for his performance.
“What do you do when the principles and standards that were instilled in you here at Howard close the doors in front of you?” he continued. “Sometimes you need to get knocked down before you can really figure out what your fight is.”
Coincidentally, he was replaced on “All My Children” by his “Black Panther” co-star (and rival in the film) Michael B. Jordan, who played Reggie in 52 episodes on the show for over three years. He told GQ in 2015, ahead of his star-making turn in “Creed,” that he had issues with how the part was written, as well.
“No dad, no mom, a f—ing stereotypical black role in a soap opera,” he said. “And I saw the stereotype, so moving forward I was like, ‘Nah, those are the roles I don’t want to play.’ ”
Both Boseman and Jordan have been praised for their nuanced performances in “Black Panther.” The diverse and well-rounded characters — including plenty of kickass women — have helped it break box office records, earning more than $1.3 billion globally. In fact, director Ryan Coogler teased in a recent Cannes Film Festival interview that he’s open to a “Black Panther” spinoff that focuses on the fierce females played by Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright. “Oh man, that would be amazing if the opportunity came up,” he said. “They did it in the comic-book version.”
And when asked if the women of Wakanda were as important as the men, he responded, “I think you could argue they are more important.”
Boseman also supported Howard graduates for protesting a financial aid scandal that has rocked the school this spring (which also garnered support from Rihanna, whose hit “B-tch Better Have My Money” became the protest anthem), along with housing and tuition increases that have galvanized the student body. He praised the students for taking over the administration building for nine days in April, as well as the administration for taking the protests seriously and promising to change.
“Everything that you fought for was not for yourself, it was for those who came after you,” he said. “Many of you will leave Howard and enter systems and institutions that have a history of discrimination and marginalization. The fact that you have struggled with this university that you loved is a sign that you can use your education to improve the world that you are entering.”
And he concluded by telling the grads that their purpose is an “essential element” of who they are. “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,” he said. “Whatever you choose for a career path, remember the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.”
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