When I heard Chadwick Boseman died, I was in a bit of a state of disbelief. 2020 has been one of those years where reality seems a bit suspended and things emotionally move in kind of a slow motion. So, like, I processed it and I didn’t. My memories of him as an actor are far outstripped by my gratitude for a singular moment. And while there are many contributors to that moment, he was the lynchpin. As his story of battling cancer came out, I developed an even deeper appreciation for that moment he gave us in February 2018.
It’s hard to overstate the anticipation Black Panther’s arrival to the Marvel Universe brought to so many people. It didn’t just introduce a hero character, it offered a whole new world. In Wakanda, Black people weren’t downtrodden second class citizens or relegated to secondary roles as the sidekick or the saucy comic relief. We were the world. The leaders and the followers, the heroes and the villains. And when the feeling of anticipation and excitement is that intense, you want to share it. You want to celebrate it.
And so, my friends and Morehouse brothers, Ronald Caishe Falls, and Verlin Campbell decided to create the ultimate watch party. They rented out a theater in Los Angeles and put the word out. And the word spread far and wide. Black people from all over the country linked by school and BGLO affiliation and simple friendship made travel plans, booked hotels, rented out Airbnb’s and started getting our outfits together.
It also deserves recognition what Black Panther did for black businesses. Ruth Carter’s costume design spiked an interest in African design that still exists. We were overrun with requests for Daishikis and wax print and Kente Cloth when the movie came out and many of those first time customers became long time customers.
A few of us rented a house in the Hollywood Hills overlooking the city, a stone’s throw from Runyon Canyon. We christened it Wakanda West. On the evening of the premiere, the house became a staging ground for the festivities. The air was electric as we got dressed up in out best African outfits.
The theater itself was a combination of family reunion, HBCU homecoming, fashion show, and movie premiere. People who hadn’t seen each other in ages hugged for what seemed like hours and took pictures together. The traditional African American greeting of “I’m just trying to be like you” was uttered a million times.
It’s hard to express what a deeply moving moment that was. This celebration of blackness and kinship with Africa. The fellowship with friends and the coming together of people from all over the country for this triumphant moment. There will be much better eulogies of Chadwick Boseman than I’ll ever give. People who knew him better, people more eloquent than me, will do much better memorializing his legacy and his life than I will (Ryan Coogler’s statement is immaculate in conveying who his friend was). But for me, the memory of Boseman will always be uniquely intertwined not just with the work he did on screen, but how that work brought so many of us together on that one shining day. For me, Los Angeles will forever be Wakanda West and Chadwick its king. Travel well.
*The beautiful cover image is by Miriam. Her work is available here.