When Dorian Evans heard the news Friday that Chadwick Boseman had died, the first thing she felt was “pure sadness” at the loss of the 43-year-old star with so much left to give.
But the retired Detroit public school teacher also remembered the happiness of the young students at a 2018 screening of “Black Panther” in Royal Oak.
“That was the whole theme, to let these kids know that they matter. That’s what they felt that day,” said Evans, who launched a crowdfunding campaign for the event, part of a national effort to give children and teens a chance to see Boseman play the Marvel superhero, Black Panther, aka T’Challa, king of Wakanda.
“They just were entranced by the movie. They felt so important, because they are,” said Evans, describing the impact of that day. “I’m just so glad that we got a chance to link up with that and be a part of that.
“To me, it was historical.”
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History was interpreted with grace and power by Boseman, who gave remarkable performances as real-life icons Jackie Robinson in 2013’s “42,” James Brown in 2014’s “Get On Up” and Thurgood Marshall in 2018’s “Marshall.”
But the vibrant actor actually made history by portraying the fictional comic-book character of Black Panther in the blockbuster film of the same name – and in three other movies of the “Avengers” franchise.
Boseman’s passing came with the revelation that he spent the last four years of his life creating great art while dealing with grueling treatment for Stage 3 and Stage 4 colon cancer.
A post on his Facebook page Friday offered details on his courageous battle: “A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all, and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much. From Marshall to Da 5 Bloods, August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and several more, all were filmed during and between countless surgeries and chemotherapy.”
‘Wakanda Forever’: Angela Bassett, Chris Evans mourn loss of ‘Black Panther’ star Chadwick Boseman
The grief from such loss is heavy this weekend as tributes pour in from colleagues and fans. Just two years ago, in metro Detroit, as in cities and nations across the world, Boseman was at the center of the phenomenon that was “Black Panther,” the film that turned 2018 into the year of “Wakanda forever!”
Before “Black Panther” hit theaters in February 2018, it was clear from the early signs – huge advance ticket sales, packed schedules for theater viewing parties and exploding social media traffic – that it was going to be big.
The magnitude of “Black Panther” would extend into cultural, political, economic and entertainment realms. But the movie’s opening night on Feb. 16, 2018, was all about the rare experience of seeing a predominantly Black cast led by a Black director, Ryan Coogler, in a mega-budget action movie.
Candice Fortman, who was working then for Detroit public radio, WDET-FM (101.9), recalls her luck at finding tickets for a 7 p.m. show at Emagine Royal Oak.
“I didn’t know who I was going with. I didn’t care if I went with anyone else. I just knew that I had to be there opening night,” said Fortman, executive director of Outlier Media, a Detroit-based service journalism organization.
“I was crying at some moments and we were cheering at some points. It was one of those movies where the audience applauded at the end.”
The energy of the night was palpable, Fortman said, and it evoked a shared feeling that defied geographic boundaries.
“Black people across the world were having this moment. Whether you were in Detroit or Pittsburgh or Chicago or Zimbabwe, you were sharing this experience. … It was like this beautiful gift to us that we so seldom get from Hollywood.”
Seeing such representation on the big screen was so important that, before its arrival, “Black Panther” sparked a viral online movement. The #BlackPantherChallenge, started in New York City by Frederick Joseph, spread quickly to other cities.
Evans, who led one of those screening drives for Detroit students, thi…