Culture | September 21st, 2020
The Importance of Black Storytellers in Today’s Society
By: Daniel J. Newton
Following the recent death of actor Chadwick Boseman, many people have begun to reflect on the impact of his work. The impact people felt from his work in films like “42” and “Black Panther” highlights not only the importance of his role as a storyteller, but the importance of Black storytellers and actors as a whole.
Boseman had a large influence on society’s contextualization of history in his role as Jackie Robison in the 2013 biopic “42.” His role in this film was important because it allowed many people to learn the gravity of history and what it took to forge paths for Black athletes in an era of racial reckoning. Florida A&M University history professor Tiffany Packer, spoke about the impact that Boseman had on people in this film.
“His depiction of Jackie Robinson has significance because it does not gloss over the history, but rather depicts in detail the intimate struggles, both professional and personal, that Robinson went through in the name of progression,” said Packer. “Boseman was also very intentional by illustrating in the film how Jackie Robinson was so much more than baseball.”
Packer explained why Black storytellers are our modern day griots with films about Black history. She recalls “Malcom X” and “12 Years a Slave” as monumental films where the storytellers had a significant impact.
“Since Black history is not widely taught, the depictions of Black history and Black people will not only serve as a teaching and empowering tool, but it also will provide international exposure and education about Black people,” said Packer.
Beyond serving the purpose of telling history, some Black actors broaden the minds of others by playing roles that display Black people in a different light. Boseman was recognized for doing this in the movie “Black Panther,” where he played a Black king and superhero. Actress, Anika Noni Rose, tweeted about the impact Boseman had following his death.
RIP #ChadwickBoseman. You changed dreams. You broadened hearts and minds. 🕊🙏🏾🤎
— Anika Noni Rose (@AnikaNoniRose) August 29, 2020
“Rose, herself, embodies the importance of Black storytellers and how they can broaden minds.”
Rose, herself, embodies the importance of Black storytellers and how they can broaden minds. In the same way that Boseman played a Black king and superhero, Rose was the voice of Princess Tiana in “The Princess and the Frog.” This was the first Black Disney princess, so Rose also diversified the perceptions of others. Black storytellers like Boseman and Rose show Black people in ways that are not traditionally viewed in society.
Outside of serving the purpose of telling Black history, Black storytellers also inspire the next generation of Black actors and storytellers with their work.
Chazriq Clarke, a junior at FAMU majoring in business administration and theatre performing arts, also spoke about how Bosman’s work inspired him as an actor.
“His role in ‘Black Panther’ was the spark that ignited my dream to become an actor. My whole life, I was surrounded by limitations and discouragement from pursuing acting because of the color of my skin,” said Clarke. “Seeing Boseman on the big screen playing the role of a Black king and a superhero, simultaneously, showed me that nothing is impossible.”
Todd Bellamy, a sophomore theatre student at FAMU, agreed that Boseman also inspired him by playing the role of a Black king and superhero. Bellamy also spoke about how seeing Black actors, in general, in these different types of roles is inspiring.
Bellamy said, “Times are changing from the days where we weren’t the main role, where we had to be the laughingstock of the movie. To finally feel that we can have our big shot is motivation for all upcoming Black talent that wants to go out into the business.”
Overall, Boseman and his work displayed the purpose and impact that Black storytellers and actors have in today’s society. With his work in the film “42,” he showed that Black actors are important. They are especially important in films about Black history. With his work in the film “Black Panther,” he showed that Black storytellers often open the minds of society and show Black people in a different light.