Chadwick Boseman’s first passion wasn’t acting on the big screen

Though Chadwick Boseman may be most widely known as King T’Challa in Black Panther, film acting wasn’t actually his first passion. The on-screen superhero actually has roots in theater, his first love. Boseman, who grew up in South Carolina, wrote his first play while he was still in high school. It was called Crossroads and was born out of tragedy, he told Rolling Stone in 2018. Up until that point in his junior year, he was focused on getting recruited to college for basketball, but the death of his friend changed everything. “I just had a feeling that this was something that was calling me,” Boseman said. “Suddenly, playing basketball wasn’t as important.”

The school actually put on his play, which set him on the path for theater and eventually film. He went to Howard University where he focused on fine arts. He worked at an African bookstore and continued to learn about Black culture. “At a historically Black college, you’re getting turned on to all these things — the pantheon of our culture,” he told Rolling Stone. “It’s John Coltrane, it’s James Baldwin. And it’s Black Panther.”

Howard is where Boseman also met actress Phylicia Rashad, who helped him make it into a program at Oxford University so he could continue to study theater. He graduated from Howard in 2000 with his bachelor’s in fine arts before moving to New York to continue working in the medium he loved.

One of Chadwick Boseman's last roles is a movie based on a play — two art forms he loved

While in New York in the early 2000s, Chadwick Boseman found a home for himself in the hip-hop theater scene, according to Rolling Stone. He also taught acting to students at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a Black research library in Harlem. Though Boseman eventually started booking on-screen roles, he didn’t turn away from the theater. Around that same time, he partnered with Howard classmate Kamilah Forbes to write and produce Rhyme Deferred, a hip-hop play that went on to tour the country.

Boseman also penned Hieroglyphic Graffiti, which was performed at the National Black Theatre Festival in North Carolina and then by the Kuntu Repertory Theatre in Pennsylvania, and Deep Azure, which was performed at the Congo Square Theater in Chicago in 2005 and won a local award. He spent just as much time on the stage as he did behind his pen, having roles in Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Urban Transitions, all in New York. And if that wasn’t enough, he also performed a one-man show in the early 2000s called Red Clay and Carved Concrete at New York’s Hip-Hop Theatre Festival.

Boseman directed a number of plays and won several theater awards as well. One of his last roles before his passing in August 2020 was in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, a movie based on a play, marrying two of Boseman’s biggest loves.

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