- In a 2018 commencement speech at Howard University, Chadwick Boseman said he was fired from a TV show early in his career after questioning his role’s stereotypical details.
- He said the role was that of a young black man with a violent streak and absentee parents.
- After discussing it with the show’s executives, he said he was let go.
- The show may have been ABC’s “All My Children,” where Michael B. Jordan, his “Black Panther” co-star, replaced him.
- You can watch the speech in full below.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
In 2018, Chadwick Boseman gave a commencement speech at Howard University Saturday where he said he was fired from a TV show early in his career after questioning the negative stereotypes of his role.
Boseman died on Friday, August 28, after a four year battle with colon cancer, which he was suffering from when the speech was made.
“I was promised to make six figures, more money than I had ever seen. I was feeling myself,” Boseman said. “Once I saw the role I was playing, I found myself conflicted… this role seemed to be wrapped up in assumptions about us as black folk.”
Boseman said the role – in a soap opera on a major network – was possibly stereotypical. He played a young black man “with a violent streak pulled into the allure of gang involvement” and with “barely a glimpse of positivity or talent in the character.” Boseman didn’t want to judge the character, but he brought it up in a meeting with the show’s executives after filming the first couple of episodes.
It didn’t go well.
“I was let go from that job the next day,” Boseman said. “The questions I asked caught the producers off guard. It perhaps paved the way for a less stereotypical portrayal for the black actor that stepped into the role after me.”
He told the full story in detail:
“It was just my luck that after filming the first two episodes, the execs called me up to their office and told me how happy they were with my performance. They wanted me to be around for a long time. They said, if there was anything that I needed, just let them know.
That was my opening. I decided to ask them some simple questions about the background of my character. Questions I felt were pertinent to the plot.
Question number one, ‘Where’s my father?’
The exact answer: ‘He left when you were younger.’
Of course. OK.
Question number two: ‘In this script, it alluded to my mother not being equipped to be a good parent. So why exactly would my brother and I have to go to foster care?’
Matter of factly, he answered, ‘Well, of course, she’s on heroin.’
‘That could be real, I guess. But I didn’t want to assume that’s what it was. If we’re out here assuming that the black characters in the show are criminals on drugs and deadbeat parents, then that would probably be stereotypical, wouldn’t it?’
That word ‘stereotypical’ lingered. One of the execs pulled out my resume and began studying it. The other exec wore a smile, trying to live up to what they had promised me only a few moments before: ‘If there’s anything you need, just let us know.’ She said, ‘As you have seen, things more fast around here. But we are more than happy to connect you to the writers if you have suggestions.’
‘Yeah, I said, that would be great. Because I’m just trying to do my homework on this. I didn’t know if you guys had decided on the facts, but maybe there was something we could come up with. Some talent or gift that we could build. Maybe he’s good at maths or something. He has to be active. I’m doing my best not to play this character like a victim.’
I was let go from that job the next day. A phone call from my agent: ‘They decided to go another way.'”
Boseman didn’t specify which show he was on. But, as HuffPost noted, Boseman’s first credited professional role was on the ABC soap opera “All My Children,” where he briefly played the gang member Reggie Porter Montgomery. Boseman was later replaced by none other than Michael B. Jordan, the very same actor who played Erik Killmonger in “Black Panther.”
Jordan played the role for three years. In a 2015 interview with GQ, he had the same criticisms that Boseman had with the role.
“No dad, no mum, a f—ing stereotypical black role in a soap opera,” Jordan said. “And I saw the stereotype, so moving forward I was like, ‘Nah, those are the roles I don’t want to play.'”
During his commencement speech, Boseman praised his undergraduate years at Howard University – a historically black college – with preparing him for his major film roles.
“I stand here today knowing that my Howard University education prepared me to play Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall, and T’Challa,” Boseman said.
At the end of his speech, Boseman gave the Wakanda salute, adapting it for his alma mater.
“Howard forever,” he said.
You can watch Chadwick Boseman’s full commencement address below: