Black Panther director Ryan Coogler released a lengthy, emotional statement about the death of Chadwick Boseman on Sunday morning, exploring his relationship with the actor who died on Friday after a four-year fight with cancer. Coogler wrote touchingly about his friend and collaborator, sharing stories about his work on the Marvel film and how he impacted his life.
The Hollywood Reporter published the statement in full on Sunday, in which Coogler recounted how he first decided to direct Black Panther, the attention to detail Boseman had in his work and how tough it’s been for him to accept that he died at just 43 years old. Coogler marveled at Boseman’s commitment to work, how supportive he was of others on set and how deeply he cared for the movies he made.
He was a special person. We would often speak about heritage and what it means to be African. When preparing for the film, he would ponder every decision, every choice, not just for how it would reflect on himself, but how those choices could reverberate. “They not ready for this, what we are doing…” “This is Star Wars, this is Lord of the Rings, but for us… and bigger!” He would say this to me while we were struggling to finish a dramatic scene, stretching into double overtime. Or while he was covered in body paint, doing his own stunts. Or crashing into frigid water, and foam landing pads. I would nod and smile, but I didn’t believe him. I had no idea if the film would work. I wasn’t sure I knew what I was doing. But I look back and realize that Chad knew something we all didn’t. He was playing the long game. All while putting in the work. And work he did.
The number of tributes Boseman has seen since his death is staggering, but the most emotional have come from those that worked with him on Black Panther and other Marvel movies. Coogler wrote that even he didn’t know the extent of his struggle with cancer and that he was battling illness for far longer than he knew.
Chad deeply valued his privacy, and I wasn’t privy to the details of his illness. After his family released their statement, I realized that he was living with his illness the entire time I knew him. Because he was a caretaker, a leader, and a man of faith, dignity and pride, he shielded his collaborators from his suffering. He lived a beautiful life. And he made great art. Day after day, year after year. That was who he was. He was an epic firework display. I will tell stories about being there for some of the brilliant sparks till the end of my days. What an incredible mark he’s left for us.
One of the most heartbreaking moments of Coogler’s piece, which absolutely should be read in full, is that Coogler admitted he’s had a year to decide what to say about his death and still struggled to find the words.
I haven’t grieved a loss this acute before. I spent the last year preparing, imagining and writing words for him to say, that we weren’t destined to see. It leaves me broken knowing that I won’t be able to watch another close-up of him in the monitor again or walk up to him and ask for another take.
Coogler spoke several times about African culture and traditions and how acutely Boseman understood them. In a loving, heartbreaking tribute, the director ended with a tragic distinction: the actor who so fiercely played T’Challa in his work is now an ancestor, not a peer.
“It is with a heavy heart and a sense of deep gratitude to have ever been in his presence, that I have to reckon with the fact that Chad is an ancestor now,” Coogler wrote. “And I know that he will watch over us, until we meet again.”