In Chadwick Boseman’s 2018 Howard University commencement speech, the Black Panther star drove the point to the graduating class that nothing and nobody can stop you from your destiny when you live your life guided by a strong sense of purpose.

Boseman is an alumni of the Washington, D.C. university, graduating in 2000 with a bachelor of fine arts in directing. He was swelling with appreciation and pride for the opportunity to speak at the college that he credits with significantly shaping both his character and his future. Indeed, he’s been busy since he left, portraying prominent roles the likes of Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and of course, the superhero king of Wakanda, Black Panther.

Boseman recounted the quick momentum he picked up early in his acting career. The South Carolina native said, “In my first New York audition for a professional play, I landed the lead role. From that play, I got my first agent. From that agent, I got an onscreen audition. It was a soap opera on a major network. I scored that role too.”

It was a role in the longest-running American soap opera, All My Children. Boseman was cast as Reggie Porter, a young gang member who was adopted by Jackson Montgomery, Erica Kane’s husband. It was quite an opportunity; indeed, the role would earn him a whopping six-figure paycheck.

However, Boseman felt conflicted about the part. He recalled, “The role wasn’t necessarily stereotypical–a young man in his formative years with a violent streak pulled into the allure of gang involvement. That’s somebody’s real story.” Chadwick had been taught to “never judge the characters you play,” but, in this instance, his conscience told him something was wrong.

“The role seemed to be wrapped up in assumptions about us as black folk,” he told the Howard graduates and faculty. “The writing failed to search for specificity. Plus, there was barely a glimpse of positivity or talent in the character; barely a glimpse of hope. I would have to make something out of nothing.”

After performing in two of the soap opera’s episodes, Chadwick recounts how some of the show’s producers told him just how delighted they were with his performance, expressed wanting him to stay onboard, and they invited him to let them know if there was anything that he needed. Taking them up on their offer, Boseman asked about the background of his character. He was disappointed to learn that the father had abandoned the family early on, and the mother was a drug addict. 

But Boseman was glad when he was offered a chance to speak with the show’s writers; he was hopeful that he could perhaps help develop some positive aspects to Reggie as he didn’t want to play him merely “as a victim.”

Much to his disappointment, it wasn’t long afterwards that Boseman was abruptly let go from the show. Worse yet, his agent told him, “We’re hesitant about sending you out to some people right now because there is a stigma that you’re difficult.”

It wasn’t easy to snap back from the experience. Full of self-doubt, Boseman wondered if he could have handled the situation differently. Indeed, the role of Reggie went on to be played by Michael B. Jordan from 2003-2006.

As for Boseman, he reminded himself that he could write his own stories as he’d always felt like he was first and foremost a writer/director. Indeed, when Chadwick was in high school, he wrote his first play entitled Crossroads which went on to be staged at the school. And he’d originally started acting so he could better relate to actors.

In his Howard speech, Boseman insisted, “Sometimes you need to feel the pain and sting of defeat to activate the real passion and purpose that God predestined inside of you … Remember the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.”

And indeed a different path presented itself to the rising star.

By the way, Michael B. Jordan would later say of his All My Children role, “You work on a show like ‘All My Children’–we all know what it is, but you’re still able to grow outside of it. It’s the perfect situation. I learned, I grew as an actor, I worked with professionals, I got paid. [But] No dad, no mom, a f***ing stereotypical black role in a soap opera. I saw the stereotype, so moving forward, I was like, ‘Nah, those are the roles I don’t want to play.’” Over a decade later, Jordan would play alongside Boseman’s Black Panther character as Erik “Killmonger” Stevens.

 

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