What Hollywood lost when Chadwick Boseman died

TV: In Off Camera with Sam Jones, the trailblazer knows his career is about more than bums on seats

Chadwick Boseman: ‘Stereotypical versions of the black experience have negatively affected how people view their surroundings and view people.’ Photograph: DCD Media

Chadwick Boseman: ‘Stereotypical versions of the black experience have negatively affected how people view their surroundings and view people.’ Photograph: DCD Media

 

Chadwick Boseman had already been diagnosed with the cancer that would eventually claim his life in 2020 when he sat down with the celebrity photographer and interviewer Sam Jones in 2017. That fascinating encounter, Off Camera with Sam Jones: Chadwick Boseman (Thursday, 10pm) is now broadcast by Sky Arts as part of a season of Jones’s most memorable conversations.

Jones created Off Camera “out of his passion for the long-form conversational interview”. He’s a laid-back interrogator, giving interviewees space to speak their minds and is in little hurry to interrupt.

That approach chimes perfectly with Boseman, who is thoughtful and articulate (and who had not yet gone public about his health). It’s also, of course, hugely moving to renew acquaintances with the actor who blazed through the Marvel Universe as Black Panther. And who portrayed such iconic African Americans as Thurgood Marshall, the US supreme-court justice; Jackie Robinson, the first black man to play major-league baseball in the modern era; and the soul legend James Brown.

Each of those individuals, Black Panther included, was a black icon. And that was not by coincidence. Boseman saw his career as about more than putting bums on seats.

“The arts have affected how we view the world,” he says. “Stereotypical versions of the black experience have negatively affected how people view their surroundings and view people – how cops view black people when they encounter them. You have the opportunity through your art to convey different ideas.”

Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther. Photograph: Marvel Studios 2018
Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther. Photograph: Marvel Studios 2018

His dream, he says, is to one day be in a position where he could take on the sorts of roles white actors are offered as a matter of course. He’d love, for instance, to play a black serial killer – to be able to show audiences that black people can be something other than the usual archetypes. “If I can watch Dexter and fall in love with that character and he’s a white boy … I’m not allowed as a black man to be that and be loved.”

Boseman is likable and considered. And he speaks articulately about the challenge of portraying real-life people. “Imitation can be you making fun of the person,” he says. “If it’s too close it becomes you making fun of hem. There has to be a little bit of separation in order for you to successfully do it.”

The star wears his charisma lightly yet does not take success for granted. And this frills-free and absorbing interview is a reminder of what Hollywood lost with his passing.

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