I'm a senior in high school, and this marks the first time I'm reading an author in English class of my ethnicity. In the twelve years I've gone to public school, I had never encountered an Indian author until I read The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy earlier this year. It is a remarkable novel that carries a special meaning to me. Reading Indian words, listening to her accented interviews, and talking about Indian culture in an academic setting gives me a strange feeling -- one I don't get when analyzing Hamlet or A Clockwork Orange. When we talk about Arundhati Roy in class -- examining her Mahabharata allusions or her egg motif or her brilliant yet childish diction -- I feel recognized.
It has nothing to do with me, specifically, but it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to be told, even implicitly, that Indian writers are worth studying in school. Indian writers are complex, nuanced, and talented; therefore, I can be too. A similar parallel can be drawn to the Chinese-American community and the movie Crazy Rich Asians, a Hollywood movie that uplifts communities that deserve more power to portray another race in a positive, nuanced light.
Chadwick Boseman died on Friday, Aug. 28, 2020, but he is remembered as an important symbol in Hollywood for representing Black culture and excellence. What struck me more than that, though, was the outstanding emotional response of the movie. When I went to go see it with one of my friends, I remember her saying: "That was game-changing." Black Panther was game-changing, bringing together a magnificent cast, with Boseman at the center. Thus, the legacy of Black Panther moved far beyond the countless awards it received.
These awards recognized that Black Panther shattered stereotypes of Africa as a pitiable continent made better by colonization. Instead, it condemned colonization, highlighting the power of authentic African culture. Wakanda has its own language, clothing, and traditions, unencumbered by any other country. "Black Panther brings together one of the most impressive principally black casts ever assembled for a major Hollywood movie," Christopher Orr writes in The Atlantic. Boseman, the king of Wakanda, is an emblem of that Black power.
Thus, Boseman's passing was not just the loss of a movie star. It was the loss of a powerful symbol for Black communities. It was the loss of a changemaker, an abrupt end to a new wave of cinema and representation. However, that loss does not take away from Boseman's legacy but poses the question: How did Chadwick Boseman powerfully define representation and visibility in the media?
Such a question can be hard to fathom. For marginalized communities who are constantly under attack, visibility comes with a sense of belonging, identity, and complexity. To Black Americans, for instance, a movie about powerful, uncolonized Black culture can be groundbreaking. It shows to you and me that stereotypes hold no weight.
Arundhati Roy showed me what had been missing from my life about how I viewed my culture. Reading her work helped me self-actualize and develop a more nuanced, respectful relationship with my ethnicity. It is easy to get used to your race being used as a punchline. Only when you see well-rounded depictions can you begin to realize the importance of good representation. As much as Roy shaped me as a student, writer, and Indian-American, I can't imagine the lengths to which Chadwick Boseman affected the Black community. His talent, leadership, and voice are celebrated, a revolution in and of itself.
Chadwick Boseman was a presence taken too soon from both cinema and society. He voiced against injustice through his acting career. He showed the public that anyone could be the main character, regardless of skin color. The value of representation, however, did not die with him. Talented writers, actors, directors, and other creative storytellers in media continue to use their platforms to tell stories -- stories that demand respect and justice for obscured communities.