Donnetrice Allison

Donnetrice Allison turned her restless thoughts on the death of Chadwick Boseman into a reflection and a tribute to the actor who showed us that Black images matter. She draws on her research and teaching on media portrayals of African Americans to show us how he was a part of something much greater than just movies.

I have spent more than two decades saying this phrase to whoever would listen – it’s not 'just a movie.'

Donnetrice Allison

You see, over the years, I have been very critical of certain movies, actors and directors, who have made artistic choices that I believed were damaging to the Black community. In the early days of film and television, we didn’t have a choice but to shuck and jive, step and fetch it, smile extra wide and make our eyes pop for the white gaze, but in more recent years a growing number of Black creators, producers and executives have been positioned to offer us images of ourselves that are more three dimensional.

And no, I am not suggesting that Black characters always have to be dignified and upstanding and perfect on stage and screen, but I am saying that our men don’t always have to be criminals and thugs, and our women don’t always have to be loud and ratchet. We are so much more than that. Black people are so much more than that. We range from intellectuals to criminals and everything in between. We are mothers and fathers, we love country music, classical music and opera, not just hip hop and R&B. We are diverse and complex, just like our ancestors on the continent of Africa were diverse and complex and spoke hundreds of different languages. All of that should be reflected in film and television, not just the handful of stereotypes that were created in the white imagination to degrade us.

And the reason so many of us are so hurt by the death of Chadwick Boseman is because he understood that. HE GOT IT in a way that many actors and creators still don’t, and he got it at a very young age. 

Chadwick Boseman

This image was from Chadwick Boseman's final tweet that has become the most-liked post in Twitter history.

While most young actors are out there hustling and trying to catch their first big break, they are willing to take whatever roles they can get to put food on the table or get their name in lights – not Chadwick.

From the very beginning of his career, he wanted to say something profound and he wanted to represent us in a way that we could be proud of, so he struggled early on and he refused the thug roles that Black male actors are so often expected to accept. He understood that he was meant for more, he was capable of more and we deserved more; and boy oh boy did he give us more.

There is a saying that 'success is when preparation meets opportunity.' Chadwick Boseman embodies that, because as soon as opportunity came knocking, he was prepared to give us his all. And contrary to what some may believe, he didn’t just come out of nowhere. He wasn’t an 'overnight success.' He worked at his craft for more than 20 years.

Unfortunately for us, we only really got to know of him in the last seven years. But in that short time, he blessed us. He gave us images and reflections of ourselves that made us stand tall in ways that Hollywood often does not. Hollywood does not honor and love us the way Chad did.

He was a legend in his own time, and he deserves all the accolades we can give him. So, to anyone who thinks we’re doing too much right now in our public mourning of him, I say, 'it’s not just a movie.' This year has brought us blow after blow. We lost a basketball legend, a civil rights icon and our first Black superhero, all while COVID-19 has ravaged our communities and police have taken our lives. So, cut us some slack as we publicly mourn our superhero – Chadwick Boseman. Black Images Matter!

Allison is professor of Communication Studies and professor and coordinator of Africana Studies. “African American Movies,” “African Americans on Television” and “Women, Minorities and the Media” are just a few of the courses she teaches, and she is editor of the book "Black Women's Portrayals on Reality Television: The New Sapphire." Learn about her upcoming project with professor of
Theatre/Directing, Aaron Moss, "Teaching While Black" in the school's Faculty Highlight.