How Chadwick Boseman’s death helped me process trauma

8/31/2020, by Fløren K (xey/xem/xeir)

TW: death, cancer, abuse in the entertainment industry

Chadwick Boseman died of colon cancer three days ago. I woke up to a text from my closest friend telling me it had happened. I was obviously shocked, and, from a more self centered place, devastated that we would never again see him as King T’Challa. As Black Panther. My next thoughts were of all the times I had thought to myself that he seemed so thin. I passed it off as that probably being his normal frame, but Marvel training really bulked him up. We now know that’s not the case. My friend also shared a tweet with me. It was by an interviewer who shared a segment from the time he spoke with Boseman. He highlighted how he (the interviewer) saw how exhausted Boseman seemed in spirit, at the mention of the physical demands of the roles he took on, in particular, Black Panther. The exhaustion. Boseman did this interview while he was being treated for cancer.

My heart sank at this. It triggered thoughts and memories of my own time pursuing acting. It reminded me of all the people who would use stories like this to manipulate new and young actors into thinking they should be giving MORE of themselves than they are comfortable giving. There is this prevalent attitude that if you don’t do everything demanded of you, you’re simply not dedicated enough. AND. All a producer or director has to do is go out and find someone who WILL do…whatever it is you don’t want to. It might be a sex scene. It might be nudity. It might be a dangerous stunt. It may simply be staying out late at an after party. I can’t tell you how much I pushed myself to come out on top. This was most obviously in the career management side of my time as an actor. The marketing, the networking, the training, the classes, the financial strain…all of it deemed “required” by some entity I never met. All things that had little to do with my actual acting ability. But. There’s the acting side too.

Imagine, for a moment, the last time you were utterly heartbroken. That pain you feel in your chest that just webs out from your heart to your whole body. The crying that just doesn’t seem like it will ever stop. Maybe you screamed or wailed. Perhaps you couldn’t even stand.

Imagine doing that for 15 takes while people capture these moments from every angle. While considering how to replicate the SAME mannerisms so each take will match from one to the other. So if there was an issue with camera, with wardrobe, with props, lighting, audio…ANYTHING, that each take will cut together perfectly and beautifully.

Imagine doing that with cancer.

I am so overjoyed by the fact that it seems Boseman had an amazing support system in place that he was able to portray Black Panther and also live out the last of his life making a difference. From everything I have ever seen of the man, and looking back on it all, he truly seemed to be making the choice to put himself through what he did because it was what HE wanted. I was impressed with him before I found out he was battling cancer. He has amazing acting technique, and in all the interviews I watched and read, he came off so professional and organized. Acting is difficult. It’s draining. For a role like that, it’s also physically demanding and potentially dangerous. Then one has to also balance their own life while portraying the life of another. It can really get to you, and I respected Boseman as an actor on those merits alone. But he also did all those things with cancer, and did so with a smile on his face.

I’m writing this in a hope that I will reach at least one actor, one performer, or anyone else that can apply this advice to their life:

Never let anyone use Chadwick Boseman’s work or struggles to manipulate you into something you don’t want to do. Including yourself.

Nevermind the fact that we all know he would hate for his name to be invoked in such a way. But we all have to understand that just because Chadwick Boseman made his choice – to make Black Panther (a cultural icon) with Marvel Studios (with near limitless resources to accommodate a performer’s needs) while surrounded by friends & family who supported him, and receiving top medical care – is not the same as a new actor being asked to jump off a ledge for a cinematic camera angle, shot with a DSLR, deferred payment, during their unpaid time off from their retail job working with no medical benefits.

How many times did I make the same decision Chadwick Boseman made, but without the resources or payoff he had? I abused my body to the point of needing back surgery at age 27. I had gotten to the point where I was unable to stand up straight, and I could not walk more than a few steps unassisted. And for what? As an indie film & regional theatre actor, IF I made money, it was minuscule. I had no savings. I had no insurance. And yet, I continuously told myself I had to “do what it takes” to get ahead in a competitive industry, even in Kentucky.

There are undoubtedly layers to Boseman’s struggle I can never understand. This news has highlighted a knowledge that has begun to saturate my life. We are all individuals. We all go through so many different things in different combinations. And, just because one person was able to do something does NOT mean I have the same capacity to do it. I may be physically able, but mentally unable. Or vice versa.

A current example is the requirement to wear face masks at my work. I work at a big box retailer and spend my days unloading the trucks & stocking the shelves. There is a lot of heavy lifting and movement involved. Now that we have to wear masks, I’m overheating quickly and need more breaks than some of the other workers. There have been comments that masks don’t affect breathing. However, I never claimed they did. I’m getting so hot that I get dizzy & need to hold onto something to support myself. To my knowledge, none of my co-workers are experiencing this. Our bodies are different. Mine is reacting to heat. Another co-worker is affected by sciatica. He needs to pause throughout his day because of that. There is another person I work with who complains to management frequently, and the phrase “if I can do it, they can” keeps coming up. That is not true. Just because one person can do something, just because one body can tolerate one thing, does not mean all bodies, all people can.

If anyone ever tries to “motivate” you by saying something like, “Chadwick Boseman filmed multiple movies, did multiple press junkets, did charity work all while having cancer” to get you to “suck it up” and do something- they are an ass. Tell them to kindly fuck off.

Published by explorinfloren

Floren Kyteler (they/them/their or xey/xem/xeir) is a New York trained actor, experienced producer, and is a self-advocate of mental health & LGBT+ rights.

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