Actor Chadwick Boseman is known for playing powerful Black characters on screen, but when he was starting out, getting well-defined roles was a challenge. In his commencement speech to the graduating class of 2018 of his alma mater, Howard University, the actor spoke about being fired from a television show because he questioned the producers about the stereotypical depiction of his character.
Boseman died in August, after a four-year private battle with cancer. He made the speech when he was suffering from it.
“I was promised to make six figures, more money than I had ever seen. I was feeling myself,” Boseman said. “Once I saw the role I was playing, I found myself conflicted… this role seemed to be wrapped up in assumptions about us as black folk.” He said that the role, on a soap opera, was possibly stereotypical. He played a young man “with a violent streak pulled into the allure of gang involvement” and with “barely a glimpse of positivity or talent in the character.”
After filming a couple of episodes, he brought up his concerns with the show’s producers, who told him that they were very pleased with his performance. “I was let go from that job the next day,” Boseman said. “The questions I asked caught the producers off guard. It perhaps paved the way for a less stereotypical portrayal for the black actor that stepped into the role after me.”
Going into more detail about the interaction, the actor continued, “It was just my luck that after filming the first two episodes, the execs called me up to their office and told me how happy they were with my performance. They wanted me to be around for a long time. They said, if there was anything that I needed, just let them know. That was my opening. I decided to ask them some simple questions about the background of my character. Questions I felt were pertinent to the plot.”
And so Boseman asked them two questions: “Where’s my father?” and “In this script, it alluded to my mother not being equipped to be a good parent. So why exactly would my brother and I have to go to foster care?” He said that the producers had answers to both the questions, when he suggested that the character might be stereotypical, one of the producers started studying his resume, while the other told him, “As you have seen, things move fast around here. But we are more than happy to connect you to the writers if you have suggestions.”
He said that he told the producers that he’d be happy to discuss his character, and perhaps come up with a ‘gift’ or ‘special talent’ for him. “I was let go from that job the next day. A phone call from my agent: ‘They decided to go another way.’”
The actor didn’t name the show, but HuffPost noted that the ABC soap opera All My Children appears on his filmography. Boseman is credited as having starred in just a couple of episodes of the show. He played gang member Reggie Porter Montgomery. He was replaced by none other than his Black Panther co-star Michael B Jordan, who had similar complaints about the character. In a later interview to GQ, Jordan said, “No dad, no mom, a f—ing stereotypical black role in a soap opera. And I saw the stereotype, so moving forward I was like, ‘Nah, those are the roles I don’t want to play.’”
Boseman concluded his story by saying, “I stand here today knowing that my Howard University education prepared me to play Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall, and T’Challa.”
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