ABC’s 20/20 tonight followed a commercial free network premiere of Black Panther with the special Chadwick Boseman: A Tribute For A King.
The hastily prepared special – the family of the 43-year old Boseman only announced his death from colon cancer Friday evening – brought together some of the actors in the Marvel Comics Universe who worked closely with Boseman through a career that seems all too brief, even as he turned in iconic performances as Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall and Wakanda King T’Challa.
The emotions were clearly raw – the special reported that Boseman went through many painful surgeries and chemotherapy sessions over four years without telling anyone – but Avengers castmembers from Scarlett Johansson to Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Winston Duke, Forest Whitaker, Mark Ruffalo, Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Olsen, and directors including Avengers’ Joe Russo and Marvel chief Kevin Feige and Disney’s Bob Iger rose to the occasion to provide testimony on what made Boseman so special. Others included Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg.
That included Robert Downey Jr, who recalled at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, the entire principal cast had a rare chance to gather. “Just the way he walked on set… he was having this immense success, in a strata of his own, humble hardworking, always smile on his face.”
“Six or eight weeks ago, I reached out to him,” Downey said. “This was after the George Floyd murder and he gave a very thoughtful reframe for me while I was on listening tour. Black Panther was hands down the crowning achievement of the marvel universe. The one where people got to vote with ticket sales we require this. It is a fantastic movie that leveled the playing field.” Downey said “there’s a void, now,” left by his friend’s death.
Also giving fresh testimony was Kamala Harris, a fellow Howard University alum who made history by being the first Black woman to run for vice president on a major party ticket. Harris said the last Tweet that Boseman posted hailed her nomination. “That his last tweet encouraged citizens to exercise of their right to vote, it is so reflective of Chadwick,” she said.
One of the most touching parts of the special came when Robin Roberts – herself a cancer survivor – discussed how generous Boseman was in visiting children suffering from cancer, making numerous appearances at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and breaking into tears as he described two children who tried to hang on to see Black Panther and could not. It was particularly jarring to imagine that the whole time Boseman was lifting the spirits of these children, he was fighting his own battle with cancer.
Among the speakers was Phylicia Rashad, a mentor of Boseman when she was his teacher at Howard University. When Boseman and several other students had an opportunity to get more training at Oxford, the high expense of which seemed prohibitive.
Said Rashad: “I received a call from one of the students in the class who said, ‘Ms. Rashad, we wanted you to know we auditioned for the British Academy of Dramatic Arts’ mid-summer program, and we got in.” I said, that’s great, and they said, but we’re not going to go, because it’s too expensive.” Rashad told the students to pack their bags. “I made a phone call to a friend of mine, and he called me back and we talked about it for about five minutes, and he said, ‘Okay, I got this money.”
Boseman got to thank Washington for his generosity when he introduced the Oscar winner at his AFI tribute. Said Boseman: “There is no Black Panther without Denzel Washington.”