By GEORGIA LAWSON, WJLA
WASHINGTON (WJLA) - The former Howard University professor who taught “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman said she noticed the actor’s star-power early on.
Vera Katz spent 32 years at the university’s theater arts department. She recalls Boseman as a bright, well-spoken student with a keen sense of direction.
“He was his own person,” said Katz. “He had his own point of view, which I liked about him.”
She said his work-ethic developed well before he found Hollywood fame. As a young directing student, Boseman began to explore the power behind the stories.
Katz recalled Boseman following her from class to class over the years at Howard, hungry to learn as much as he could. In time, he carved out his space at the university and began writing plays. The quality of his writing, she recalls, stood out and reflected a deep fascination for his roots.
“He was very interested in black history, very aware of his culture, and spoke about it a lot. And the plays he wrote had a lot of African reverberations, African ritual in it,” she said.
Congrats to the entire #blackpanther team! Because of you, young people will finally see superheroes that look like them on the big screen. I loved this movie and I know it will inspire people of all backgrounds to dig deep and find the courage to be heroes of their own stories.— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) February 19, 2018
The social and political undertones of his work extended beyond the stage. Katz said one morning a young Boseman walked up to her and told her that class should be cancelled that day. When Katz asked why, Boseman said that he was waiting for the OJ Simpson verdict to “see whether black people are going to get justice.”
His consciousness endured beyond his college years, as he helped retell the storyline that Hollywood had written for the African American male. Boseman is known for his roles as Jackie Robinson in “42,” James Brown in “Get on Up,” Thurgood Marshall in “Marshall" and now T’Challa in “Black Panther.”
“(Boseman) wants to say that his people can rule the universe. That his people have strength of character and intelligence and physical prowess, and they can rule a nation,” said Katz.
Dallas Mavericks player Harrison Barnes recently bought 150 kids a screening to "Black Panther." "What you do on the court is one thing, but what you do in the community, off the court says a whole lot about who you are," Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said about the good deed. pic.twitter.com/mos2c1HBNr— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 20, 2018
When Katz began teaching at Howard, characters like the ones Boseman portrays did not exist. She pushed for a robust theatre program at the university that trained young actors of color to tell the stories that were uniquely theirs.
“There wasn’t anybody of color on screen – any screen or stage,” Katz notes. “And I was determined to change that.”
Moving forward, she hopes to see more black production companies, something she believes Boseman is on his way to creating.
“The main thing is that people own and tell their own stories,” she said.