Category Archives: Deaths

RIP, Black Panther: Chadwick Boseman Forever

RIP, Black Panther: Chadwick Boseman
RIP, Black Panther: Chadwick Boseman

When Black Panther dies in “Avengers: Infinity War,” I didn’t believe it. He was too great a character to write out of the franchise.

When I heard the news today that actor Chadwick Boseman had died of colon cancer at the age of 43, I felt the same thing, only magnified by real life and real tragedy. Boseman was too great for him to leave this life so soon.

I served as consulting producer on the HBO documentary “Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown”; Boseman starred as Brown in “Get On Up,” the big-screen movie version that was made from the same source material. 

Boseman specialized in bringing the lives of bigger-than-life Black icons like Brown to the big screen. If he had only played Black Panther, he would have deservedly been a legend–but he did much more than that. He also played Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall as a younger man in “Marshall” and baseball legend Jackie Robinson in “42.”

When I was growing up, Black heroes, let alone superheroes like Black Panther, were much more of a rarity in Hollywood movies. Black characters were more likely to be criminals or clowns; if they were positive roles, they were likely to be small parts, or in small movies. Boseman followed in the tradition of Denzel Washington—he focused on roles that uplifted Black viewers, and he managed to win parts in movies that were significant releases.

Boseman didn’t play cardboard heroes. His James Brown is a deeply-flawed man, fueled by ambition, driven by demons, wracked by addictions. But Brown was also indisputably a genius musician. That’s what we all want and expect of our storytellers–to go beyond stereotypes and tropes and portray our stories in their complexity and glory.

In a statement, Boseman’s family said that since 2016, he had been in treatment for stage-III colon cancer, which progressed to stage IV. That meant he filmed some of his greatest roles, like “Black Panther,” while he was fighting a deadly illness. Former President Barack Obama said in a statement about the actor’s passing, “To be young, gifted, and Black; to use that power to give them heroes to look up to; to do it all while in pain – what a use of his years.”

It’s hard to get authentic movies about Black life made in Hollywood. The efforts and accomplishments of people like Boseman, like Washington and Sidney Poitier in years past, have helped blaze a trail for other actors to follow. Because Boseman fought to play heroes in the movies, he succeeded in becoming one in real life.

[This post has been updated.]

Luke Perry–and the 1990s–RIP

Luke_Perry_by_Gage_SkidmoreLuke Perry is dead.

To some, it may just be the sad passing of an actor.

To people who lived through the 1990s, it’s a little more.

Perry played Dylan McKay on “Beverly Hills, 90210.” To put it in Baby Boomer terms, he was kind of the Fonz on “Happy Days” of the 1990s. To put it in millennial terms, he was kind of the Jughead Jones on “Riverdale” of his day.

Actually, maybe millennials get it without the translation–Perry also appeared on “Riverdale” as Fred Andrews, Archie’s dad.

“Beverly Hills, 90210″ was a big part of the TV culture of the 1990s. It spanned the decade, running from from October 4, 1990 to May 17, 2000. There were just reports of a possible reboot of the show.

The 1990s are back because the 90s never left. We still watch 90s movies and TV shows and we still listen to 90s music.

The new movie “Captain Marvel” is set in the 1990s and the advertising campaign is pushing the music and pop culture of the period. I have a new novel coming out called “Around Harvard Square” that’s set in the 1990s and I named every chapter with a song from decade, like “Ex-Factor” and “Kick in the Door” and “Come As You Are.” There was a lot of great music made in the 1990s, from alternative rock to gangsta rap to the Fugees and Lauryn Hill.

Now that the 52-year-old Perry has passed on, everyone who is around his age–like me–is thinking just a little bit more about the 1990s, the pop culture of the period and their own mortality.

RIP, Dylan.

“Around Harvard Square” is available for preorder and will also be released on Audible.

Stuart Scott, Game Changer

StuartScott2Stuart Scott was a game changer.

The long-time ESPN anchor passed away today at the age of 49.

We’ll remember his catchphrases–like “as cool as the other side of the pillow”–but he was more than the sum of his taglines.

One of hardest things to do in any medium is to speak in your own voice. There’s constant pressure to talk like everyone else, to speak in the corporate voice if you want to be heard and respected.

That’s not quite how Scott played the game.

What I admired about Scott–and what lots of people loved about him– is that he didn’t sound like every other broadcaster on ESPN.

But a lot of broadcasters now sound like him.

Former NFL star Keyshawn Johnson said on ESPN today that, after he left football to become a commentator, Scott helped give him the courage to be himself on the air. “He was able to bring the hip hop culture, that urban feel to television sports broadcasting–something that’s never been done before–[and] gave me the hope that I didn’t have to be some corporate guy.”

I never thought of Scott as hip, let alone hip-hop, but he brought some of the flavor of the way people actually speak, some of the rhythms of the music many sports fans listen to, to sports broadcasting.

“He was a role model for me,” former NFL player turned broadcaster Cris Carter said today on ESPN. “He talked, on SportsCenter, like me and my friends talked.”

Lots of times, I turn on ESPN radio, and I hear about brothers on the court, but there are no black broadcasters talking about the action. Lots of times I turn on ESPN on TV, and I see brothers on the field, but I don’t see a single person of color giving their views about what’s going on.

In the book “Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN,” former ESPN executive Keith Clinkscales is quoted as saying “Sports journalism’s record on hiring minorities is abysmal, and network television’s record is abysmal.” He calls Scott getting vernacular on the air at ESPN one of black America’s “great cultural moments.”

Scott’s voice will be missed. He was much cooler than the other side of the pillow.

He was the other side of the story.

Please leave your thoughts about Scott in the comments.

Check out my new novel “Game World.”