Spike Lee didn’t know Chad Boseman was sick: ‘I wouldn’t have made him do the stuff’

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It has been a little over a month since Chadwick Boseman passed away from colon cancer. Many people close to him or that he worked with didn’t know he was sick. Some have mentioned how hard working he was. Chad’s brother recently opened up about Chad’s last words to him. His Black Panther castmates and so many others have made tributes and spoken about his legacy.

Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods was one of the last films Chadwick filmed before he died. Spike profiled in Variety’s November issue. He discusses how black and brown people saved NYC and how he didn’t know Chadwick had been ill when worked with him. He would have done things different if he knew. Below are a few excerpts:

On Chadwick Boseman:
Lee wasn’t aware of [Boseman’s] illness when they were making the movie together, but he recently rewatched it — discovering new meaning in a pivotal scene where Boseman’s character, Stormin’ Norman, is bathed in a heavenly white light. As a tribute, Lee now has a flag of Boseman flying outside his office.

“Were there any signs?”
He did not look well, but my mind never took that he had cancer. It was a very strenuous shoot. I mean, we all didn’t get to Vietnam until the end of the movie at Ho Chi Minh City. But that other stuff, the jungle stuff, was shot in Thailand. It was 100 degrees every day. It was also at that time the worst air pollution in the world. I understand why Chadwick didn’t tell me because he didn’t want me to take it easy. If I had known, I wouldn’t have made him do the stuff. And I respect him for that.

“How did you hear about Chadwick’s death?”
That night, for some reason, I went to bed early. And the fact that I went to bed early, I woke up early. It must have been I was tired. I went to open my phone, and my phone — the whole thing had been blowing up. I turned it off. I was in shock. And most recently, with my lovely wife, Tonya, we watched it [“Da 5 Bloods”] again for the first time after his transition. And it plays totally different. He’s a ghost already. You know the scene I’m talking about? It’s the scene where he comes back, him and Delroy. I felt it when we shot it.

On New York six months into Covid:
I got to give it up to Cuomo. I think he did a great job because it easily could’ve gone the other way. I remember all those movies — “Death Wish” and “Escape From New York” — it was full of drug addicts and prostitutes and dope dealers and muggers. And then, later, I remember the summer of ’77, the blackout, 9/11. New York was dead. And they’re running that same narrative. New York has always gone through hard times and rebounded, so I’m not buying that.

But here’s the thing — it was the Black and Brown people of New York City that kept this motherf—er going. And we saw it [with] MTA buses, the subway, hospital workers, cops, firemen, nurses, first responders. And also, we paid the price. We didn’t have a choice. We had to work. A lot of these people, I think, wanted to work. They wanted to help. And then, we suffered the most because of the condition we live in. We’re just not healthy. We don’t have the health services that other people have. I don’t think you have to be a medical Einstein to see that we over-index Black and Brown people: hypertension, obesity, we can go down the line.

[From Variety]

Spike Lee made a few valid points about NYC. NYC amazing was amazing for me in its diversity. When I revisited New York in 2017 for the first time since 2006, I was devastated at how much it had changed. I didn’t see many black or brown people which gave NYC a different flavor, vibe, energy. They had gentrified the hell outta of that city. And it is quite sad that the majority of the people who died in NYC from COVID were people of color working on the frontlines trying to keep other people safe. The Trump administration just didn’t give a damn about their lives.

I grew up on Spike Lee Films. They have always been profound. Spike can tell the story of Blackness from many different points of view. I always liked his films, especially the ones from the 80s like Mo’ Better Blues, School Daze, Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever. In fact his retelling of Malcolm X’s life was controversial when it hit theaters and remains so til this day. And now every time I think of Malcolm X, I see Denzel Washington’s face.

I still get sad when I see a picture of Chadwick Boseman. It hurts my heart because it feels as if he was just getting started but was snatched away before growing into the megastar he was meant to be. The way his castmates speak of his integrity and kindness hurts my soul. I have many thoughts about why good people are taken and well… yeah.

The wheel of life will just keep turning. I am glad Chadwick left behind such an amazing catalog of work for those of us who never met him. And for those who had the honor to work with him, I am sure his kindness, compassion, character and hard work left an indelible mark. I’ll continue to remember him and watch my favorite films Chad starred in. I hope, over time, that my sadness will dissipate and I won’t tear up whenever I see a picture or video of him.

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Roses For The King. Photo By David Lee.

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14 Responses to “Spike Lee didn’t know Chad Boseman was sick: ‘I wouldn’t have made him do the stuff’”

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  1. Steph says:

    @Oya, hit me up the next time you’re in NYC. Us Black and Brown folk are still here!

  2. Veronica S. says:

    Manhattan is gentrified, IMO, mainly because it’s so outrageously priced at this point that to live there is upper echelon living. The the outer boroughs are plenty diverse, though. He’s right about minorities and the poor/working class keeping this country running, though. And they were repaid with neglect and scorn.

    • Roserose says:

      I couldn’t click away without mentioning N. K. Jemisin’s “The City We Became” a book about the gentrification of NYC. It’s awesome.

    • Oya says:

      Bedstuy is hella gentrified. I lived there in 2002-2003. When I went back in 2017, I was floored.

  3. Stacy Dresden says:

    Still crying over Boseman’s tragic demise.

    • SDCityGirl says:

      Agree – I still physically cry when I read a story or see a picture of Chadwick Boseman. 2020 has been rough on so many levels (I always still cry at the COVID stories of lives lost and who they were as people) but it’s just extra difficult to know we lost him, too.

    • Darla says:

      Yes and Oya’s post made me tear up again.

  4. Yup, Me says:

    Oya, I’m really enjoying your posts. They say so much of what I want to say. I often don’t have words in response, but I’m reading them and loving seeing more content specifically about Black folx.

    When I saw the quote, I thought Spike was being an ass, but in context, his comment made perfect sense.

  5. Lizzythe2 says:

    I suspected since we learned that Chadwick had died that he did not tell anyone because he didn’t want to be treated differently.

    He didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him. He didn’t want anyone to be sad around him. He enjoyed every moment he had because he knew time is so precious.

    Writing that just makes me choke up. I suspect like many who had seen his work already we know what a talent he was but also an incredible human being. I too get emotional every time I read a story about him.

  6. Edna says:

    I still can’t believe he’s gone. I tear up every time I think about him. I was really looking forward to what his future would bring to us.

    P.S. Oya, when’s the next recipe post?

  7. Chigirlie says:

    This still hurts. I teared up as well. Thanks for this nicely written article. It’s going to take some time to get over the loss of this kind, beautiful, talented man.

  8. Sunnee says:

    Born and raised in NYC, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. The Bronx, Brooklyn and parts of Queens were always diverse. Manhattan had diversity in pockets such as Spanish Harlem, Harlem, Washington Heights, the East Village, Alphabet City, Soho etc. Grew up in the Bronx, my aunt lived off Nostrand in Brooklyn and I stayed with her a lot. IMO, Gentrification started in the eighties. And I saw the East Village change before my eyes. Brooklyn has changed a lot, my aunts old brownstone just sold for 2 million. But not the Bronx, it still feels the same.
    When I went to NYU, I lived in Greenwich Village. My daughter is now in college there and we got her a flat on the upper east side, off second ave. I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity in her building. Black and Brown are still there in NYC. Carrying the city with their hard work.

  9. J ferber says:

    Spike Lee always was and still is the boss. I’ve watched his movies and documentaries for many years. His story about Boseman is so sad. I like that Mr. Lee has a flag up for him. Mr. Lee is an institution and an inspiration. Much respect and love.