When I was a child, positive representations of Black people on TV were pretty much nonexistent. When it came down to the world of superheroes and fighting crime, people that look like me were rarely ever on the opposite side of prison bars, being handcuffed in the back of a police car, or dead in the street as the end result of a diabolical plan gone wrong. Actually, that’s the only role I saw Black people play growing up. I can’t recall a time when a Black person was the one who saved the day and deemed a hero in a movie — that is, until Black Panther was released in 2018.
But, imagine what not seeing positive representations does to a child’s psyche. Imagine being the earliest age you can recount memories (maybe age 4? 5?) to being a 24-year-old Black person like me (at the time of Black Panther’s release) and not having any recollection of positive representation of yourself in (superhero) films. Why can’t a Black person save the day? Why are Black people always villains, or — at most — sidekicks? It makes you question if you’re not worthy of positive celebration because of the color of your skin. The images we consume help shape our understanding of the world. As a young girl, the images I consumed made me come to the conclusion that, in the simplest terms, Black people are bad, and white people are good.
Obviously, my perspective has changed now as a 26-year-old Black person with having more positive representations now more than ever in film and television. But growing up, I didn’t have that.
I wish I did.
If there’s one thing I’m so grateful for that Chadwick Boseman was able to do before his passing, it’s that he was able to be the representation that young Black children deserve; it’s that through him, young Black children were able to see themselves as powerful superheroes; it’s that young Black children were able to see themselves represented as something outside of negative, stereotypical, hegemonic narratives that too often plague the Black body and the Black experience.
I am deeply saddened by the passing of this incredible human. What he gave to the world is something beyond what I can explain or write about. Representation is so important, and I specifically keep going back to how it’s important for Black children to see themselves positively represented on film and TV because not only does on-screen diversity shape how minorities are viewed by society, but it also shapes how minorities view themselves. I wonder how much more confidence, self-love, and self-worth I would have had growing up if I had people like Chadwick to look up to.
Rest in power, Chadwick Boseman. Thank you for being that on-screen, positive representation that I never had for so many Black children across the globe. Thank you for showing the world that to be Black is to be powerful, resilient, and unstoppable. Lastly, thank you for being the world’s first “Black superhero” and showing the world that Black people can be, and are, not just criminals or villains or the “bad guys,” but are superheroes, too.