Chadwick Boseman gave the commencement address at Howard University over the weekend. Chadwick said many wonderfully uplifting words that I’ll come back to but first, let’s talk about his final two words. Chadwick Boseman chose to end the address at his alma mater with “Howard Forever” while giving the Wakanda salute.
There have been memes floating around for about a month about how much Chadwick supposedly hates doing the Wakanda salute now based mainly on this photo:
Then, at Howard, there was this video with a fan:
If we’re playing Photo (and video) Assumption with the above, it does look like Chadwick is becoming increasingly exasperated by throwing up the salute on command. Last month when he was on Kimmel, he admitted that he can’t go outside without doing the salute.
"You know what the funny thing is if I don't want to do it I have to not leave the house, pretty much… I've been chased in cars, I've actually done the scene from Coming To America where he goes to the bathroom and people are bowing to him.”
It seems like Chadwick knows that this comes with the territory and that, yes, this is now part of his job but the man can’t even go to the bathroom without being asked to do the salute. That sounds annoying, especially given what the salute represents. Wakanda is more than just a fictional country and those arms held across Chadwick’s chest hold more cultural significance than the Vulcan salute, for example. But stans will be stans and Leonard Nemoy probably had to say, “Live long and prosper” while holding up his parted fingers more times in his life than anything else (he ended his commencement address in 2012 with it too.)
To me, Wakanda Forever is a rally cry for Marvel’s first black superhero. It’s the words yelled by the Dora Milaje, the badass black women portrayed unlike any other black women I had seen on screen until the first time I watched Black Panther. Wakanda is an uncolonized country that revels in its blackness. Wakanda Forever represents a state of mind. Plus, the salute is dope as f-ck. I do it all the time, with the utmost respect, of course.
To many of the Marvel fans who stop Chadwick in the street, I’m sure the Wakanda salute means nothing more to them than just that cool thing that guy who plays T’Challa does for their entertainment. Since Black Panther destroyed the box office, I knew questions like this would be coming. Who gets to do the salute? Who owns it? Everyone knew this was coming. When Chadwick hosted SNL, they did a whole skit on it. Back to Photo Assumption. I don’t think Chadwick is necessarily over doing the salute altogether but I do think he is wary of who asks him to do it and when. If Chadwick had to choose when and where to do the salute, I don’t think he’d choose to do it on Live with Kelly and Ryan. Proof:
But he did choose to do it at Howard after he gave an impassioned speech about activism, purpose, and failure. Which brings me back to Chadwick’s speech. Like every good commencement speaker, Chadwick told an anecdote about the lowest point of the beginning of his career. He landed a role in a soap opera but was worried that his character reinforced black stereotypes. The character grew up in foster care because his dad was a deadbeat and his mom was a heroin addict. The exact wording Chadwick used was that the show’s writing “failed to search for specificity.” When Chadwick brought up his reservations about his character to the network executives, (he never gives a name but the only soap opera on Chadwick’s IMDB page is All My Children) he got fired.
"What do you do when the principles and standards that were instilled in you here at Howard close the doors in front of you? Sometimes you need to get knocked down before you can really figure out what your fight is."
The point of Chadwick’s anecdote was that he hoped his speaking up encouraged the writers to think harder about that character so that the next guy who played him had a little more “specificity” to work with. The students of Howard he addressed protested for causes including financial aid, campus housing, tuition increases, and according to NPR, “demands for the university president to resign” while they were at school. Chadwick’s praised their actions and his message was this:
"Everything that you fought for was not for yourself, it was for those who came after you… Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill."
After Chadwick was awarded a honourary doctorate degree, he promised to advocate to create a college of fine arts at Howard. Howard University is an HBCU, THE HBCU. It’s “The Mecca” of black education in the U.S. Howard is also a state of mind. I think Chadwick proudly stood on that stage as an alumnus and did that salute. I actually don’t think he was as annoyed as he looked in the video with the Howard student I referred to earlier. Howard is only going to create more Chadwick Bosemans and since he fought for their specificity, since he went to Wakanda, their future is going to be a lot brighter.
Stop asking the man to do the salute while he’s driving and trying to use the bathroom though. Read the room.