Chadwick Boseman Helped Many Make a Stronger Connection to their African Heritage
The late actor and producer Chadwick Boseman helped many find a stronger sense of identity in their African roots.
Chadwick Boseman's passing came as a surprise for many across the world a few days ago, as he kept his health condition private. It's evident he was adored by many, as shown by the reaction to the tweet that announced his passing from colon cancer, which hit the top of Twitter's metrics as it went viral with over six million likes at the time of this writing.
Boseman portrayed inspiring historical African American figures, such as Jackie Robinson in 42, and James Brown in Get on Up. His role as the superhero Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) made him an international star and infused a new sense of pride and identity for many of African descent around the world, particularly African Americans.
Said Chadwick of African American ancestry:
"Whether you're conscious of it or not, you have an ancestry that is very hard to trace. You have roots that are hard to connect to. You can't call out your ancestors."
Indeed, there can be special challenges in tracing African American genealogies, owing to enslavement and the systems and structures that have historically been in place that have disadvantaged African Americans in historical records.
While getting names and dates of ancestors from across the sea in Africa can be a major hurdle, many families can be traced back at least to the American Civil War, and from there, DNA tests can help you determine what region of Africa your ancestors came from. Here is Chadwick Boseman's patriarchal line that has been traced back to the Civil War era.
Chadwick took a DNA test and discovered that his ancestral roots trace back to the Yoruba people of Nigeria, as well as the Limba and Krio peoples of Sierra Leone.
In preparing for his role as the Black Panther, Chadwick told Stephen Colbert in an interview that his ancestral identity played a part in inspiring his role:
"What we had to do was ground it in an authenticity that is African...for me I am Yoruba...and also found out that I'm Limba from Sierra Leone, so what does that mean to me, and how can I bring that to the film?"
Chadwick also insisted that, as T'Challa/Black Panther, he speak with an accent that was African in origin, and not with an American or European accent. He reasoned that the people of Wakanda had never been colonized or enslaved, so it would not make sense to speak in an accent that was not of African origin.
In a Variety article, film critic Owen Gleiberman called Chadwick a "culture hero." Emmanuel Acho had that same sentiment when he tweeted, "Honestly, I’m indebted. People went from clowning Africans to wanting to be ‘African’ because of the character this man played, and what he gave us."
Chadwick's portrayal of a black superhero broke out of the roles in which black people have tended to be cast in the most: victims of enslavement, segregation, and racism—roles that are all connected primarily to pain and trauma.
I think Josephine Scere summed up perfectly what I have seen so many in the African American community articulating in the wake of Chadwick's passing: "He instilled so much in us. In our sons and our daughters. Black Panther gave us a stronger sense of self. A connection to more than just pain. His depiction gave us a connection to joy, to ancestors, victory, wealth, and our innate royalty."
"In my culture, death is not the end."
—Chadwick Boseman as Prince T'Challa in Black Panther
May he rest in peace.
Resources for Tracing African American Genealogy
Need some help tracing your African American roots? Try these valuable resources to get started with your research.
Tracing Your African-American Genealogy - FamilySearch
African American Ancestry - American Ancestors
Celebrate the African American In You - Ancestry
About the Author
Family history research has long been a passion of mine since I was a teenager. Having researched my own family tree extensively, I enjoy looking into the family trees of notable people. It gives me a sense of their background and what shaped them and their family into who they are today. To see their roots and where they come from is always inspiring. Being a history geek, I’m often in awe of the historical experiences of their ancestors and how they connect to the present day. I hope to inspire others to research their own family trees and find out where they come from by sharing interesting insights from the family trees of some of my favorite artists and entertainers.
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