Cinematic history is being made this weekend with the release of Black Panther, a film that marks the first time that a major studio greenlit a black superhero movie directed by an African-American director and featuring a mostly black cast. Chadwick Boseman stars as the protagonist warrior named T’Challa, aka Black Panther, alongside actors Michael B. Jordan, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright.

It’s not Boseman’s first run at portraying the Black Panther; he first wore the slick feline bodysuit in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War when studio executives were in search of a character that would remain neutral as Captain America and Iron Man found themselves in opposing factions. Indeed, producers were so sure Boseman was the perfect fit, they offered him the part without a reading. It turns out, the role was an answer to his prayers; Boseman said that he prayed to be the Black Panther before he was cast in the Disney film.

The cultural significance of playing the first black Marvel superhero is not lost on Boseman. He remembers when he yearned as a child to see characters in the movies that looked like his friends and family members. With this in mind, Boseman says he’s playing the role first and foremost “for the kids,” so they can grow up seeing themselves being represented on screen and with action figures.

Black Panther delves into the storyline of the Marvel character who made his debut in 1966. In the film, T’Challa returns home to the secret African nation of Wakanda to serve as the country’s new leader.

To prepare for the iconic role, Boseman went to a local comic-book shop to purchase Black Panther back issues. He disguised himself with a hat and sunglasses on his quest, but was soon recognized in the store as “the dude that’s playing the character!” Also, he started a boot camp regimen which included five hours a day of cardio, weights, and martial arts. Boseman modified his diet too; at first, he ate a lot of meat, but in order to feel more agile, his diet became more vegetarian. He worked with a dialect coach to finetune a South African accent, and to feel more connected to his family origins, he took a DNA test and discovered his ancestry was from the Limba people in Sierra Leone.

Boseman was born in South Carolina and graduated from Howard University majoring in directing. He then graduated from the British American Drama Academy in London. From the start, Boseman gravitated to writing and directing. But as he sought to relate to the actors he was directing, he decided to study acting. He’s described himself as an artist, saying, “Artists don’t need permission to work. Regardless if I’m acting or not, I write.” He’s portrayed Jackie Robinson in 42 and James Brown in Get on Up, and one day he’d love to play Jimi Hendrix.

Black Panther is receiving critical acclaim and is setting all sorts of records at the box office. It can boast presale tickets that are the largest ever for a Marvel film, and it raked in over $25 million with its Thursday previews. And the movie is predicted to bring in a massive $165 million opening over the Presidents Day weekend.

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