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Three lessons following the loss of a King

By Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo
05 September 2020   |   4:07 am
He wasn’t T’Challa of course. Neither was he James Brown, or Jack Robinson, or Thurgood Marshall – just some of the amasing heroes he brought to life on the big screen.


He wasn’t T’Challa of course. Neither was he James Brown, or Jack Robinson, or Thurgood Marshall – just some of the amasing heroes he brought to life on the big screen.

He was Chadwick Boseman of course, whose untimely death aged just 43, after a dignified and discreet battle with colon cancer he was first diagnosed with in 2016.

While he may not be a real life king, with his quiet composure, dignified demeanour, and effortless talent, Boseman was well on his way to becoming Hollywood royalty.

When we woke up to the news of his death on Saturday morning, scrolling through social media, I saw reams and reams of footage of Boseman on and off the screen – where at a press junket he talked about terminally ill children looking forward to the release of Black Panther, his powerful graduation speech at his alma mater where he addressed the importance of living in one’s purpose; as well as post after post from celebrities, friends and fans all voicing their disbelief.

Alongside disbelief, this untimely loss also magnified some of the important lessons we took in our stride within hours of the breaking news.

Be kind
Soon after we found out about Boseman’s death and the cause, there were people highlighting the time when the actor had lost a lot of weight and been the subject of cruel speculating on social media including those who questioned if he was on drugs. Everyone was quick to point out that if one didn’t have anything nice to say, they should keep their mouths shut, or in a world you can be anything, be kind. Boseman’s very personal battle – all the while he was out there making movies – highlighted the fact that we know nothing about people’s private hells and what they are fighting day to day. You could almost feel the power of the global resolution to be kind to one and all and always assume in faith.

That’s why, cultural appropriation or not, whatever side of the debate you are, some of the cutting comments aimed at Adele for wearing Bantu knots and Jamaican flag bikini to celebrate Notting Hill Carnival just a couple of days later, felt like perhaps the will to remain kind had already broken.

Bring your best
One lesson that resonated with me was the fact that, despite having treatment for aggressive cancer, Boseman carried on like normal when many of us struggle to get out of bad because of a mild case of the flu sometimes, or just feeling less than 100 per cent. I don’t mean to judge anyone – after all our thresholds for what we can take on – physically and mentally – differ, and that’s absolutely fine. However, there’s also quite a few of us who always have the ‘Woe is me’ victim mentality. Boseman would have had the utmost right to play the biggest victim – after all a young talent on the way to greatness struck down by terminal disease is truly a victim. Yet, instead of cowering under the covers and throwing a pity party, Boseman brought his best day after day and left a legacy of not only big screen brilliance, but rock-solid resilience we will always remember him by.

Choose your circle of trust well
It is true that Boseman didn’t share his illness with anyone beyond his close circle, but even the fact that in the four years since his diagnosis and with ongoing treatment, no one, including some of his colleagues, didn’t have a clue what he was going through is just proof of how strong and exclusive that circle of trust was. How many of us manage to keep our lives private – picking the select few whom we can truly let in? How many of us are worthy of that kind of trust which knows that whatever secret we hold will stay with us? As much as highlighting how we know nothing of people’s private battles, Boseman’s death, in my opinion, also should be a reminder of how some personal joys and heartaches should be kept private – in an age where anything can be anyone’s business, today’s news and tomorrow’s archived content at the click of a button.