“Choose Integrity, Choose Decency”: The Russo Bros Reflect On Chadwick Boseman’s Legacy In 2020

Boseman's last tweet before he died praised fellow HBCU grad Kamala Harris. The Russo Brothers, directors of “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame,” reflected on the legacy of the late actor in a new interview with NowThis.

Chadwick Boseman attends the European premiere of Marvel Studios' "Black Panther" at the Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith on February 8, 2018 in London, England. | Getty Images
Chadwick Boseman attends the European premiere of Marvel Studios' "Black Panther" at the Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith on February 8, 2018 in London, England. | Getty Images

As “Avengers” directors and cast members assemble to get out the vote for an incredibly consequential election, they are keenly feeling the loss of one of their own. Chadwick Boseman, who played the iconic T’Challa, or Black Panther, died of colon cancer in August, to the surprise of many — including his own colleagues — who didn’t know the 43-year-old actor was ill. Boseman was a passionate advocate for social justice.

“He was the bravest person I think I’ve met,” director Joe Russo said in an interview with NowThis.

“Chadwick [went] through what he went through in private, without letting any of us know,” he added. “And he worked with him for seven years.”

When Boseman’s family announced that he died on August 28, they said he “battled with [stage 3 cancer] these last four years as it progressed to stage 4.” His illness was not public knowledge. 

During those years, with his private diagnosis, Boseman acted in a prolific number of critically celebrated films: “Captain America: Civil War,” “Message from the King,” “Marshall,” “Black Panther,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Avengers: Endgame,” “21 Bridges,” and “Da 5 Bloods.”

The Russos directed Boseman in three of those Marvel films, and also produced the non-Marvel action thriller “21 Bridges,” in which he starred. Boseman’s family said all the roles were filmed “during and between countless surgeries and chemotherapy.”

In the interview, Joe Russo said, “Because he wanted to make it about something larger than him, he did not want the story of this first, great Black superhero coming to the screen to be about his illness. He wanted it to be about the story of diversity, the celebration of diversity. And it was incredibly brave and he always showed incredible integrity.”

Anthony Russo chimed in: “One thing we took away from him on a personal level is that he’s an incredibly passionate person. He’s really one of the hardest-working, most focused, devoted actors we ever worked with. He’s the kind of actor who, you know, it’s difficult to play a character like T’Challa and Black Panther. And he would stay in that character, even between takes, he would speak in the Wakandan accent throughout his entire time shooting the film. And I think that spoke to the fact that he brings every layer of his being to the expression, to his acting expression.”

The fictional country of Wakanda is a technologically advanced society in the Marvel universe, with the Black Panther reigning as king and protector.

Boseman fought for Marvel Studios to let him use the “Wakandan accent,” which was inspired by the South African Xhosa language. According to The Los Angeles Times, he said he felt like using an American or British accent with the character was a “deal breaker,” and “that would not be fine because if we did that, that would be saying that [Wakandans] had been colonized.” 

In a recent Biden campaign fundraiser hosted by the Russos and attended by several of Boseman’s fellow cast members, vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris spoke admiringly of the idea of Wakanda and how the younger sister of T’Challa, Shuri, is an inspiration to her.

Chadwick Boseman’s real-life friendship with Sen. Kamala Harris

Boseman and Harris had a personal connection: both attended Howard University, the historically Black university in Washington, D.C. 

During the fundraiser, Harris called him a “very dear friend” and said she “think[s] about him all the time.” She was broadcasting from a studio at her DC headquarters, which is at Howard, and she noted there are “monuments and memorials set up on campus to him.”

When asked about that connection, Joe Russo said to NowThis, “I know one of his last tweets was supporting Senator Harris, and I think we know where his heart was. What he would say to voters going to the poll[s] is choose integrity, choose decency. Have a passion for your country, protect it, defend it. He always exhibited those traits to us in the time that we knew him.”

Boseman’s final tweet was posted on August 11, the day that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced Harris as his running mate:

The next tweet posted to Boseman’s account was on August 28, when his family announced his passing.

“We all have strong feelings within us about what America is, what it should be, what we feel like our lives should be and what kind of environment we should create for the rest of us — not only Americans, but the world,” Anthony Russo said. “And elections are the time to act on that passion. And I think that’s what thing I would take away from Chadwick at this moment is just really find a way to live your passion, express your passion, and find a way for others to feel that so that they can be inspired and connected to it as well.”