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‘Scream’ Star Mason Gooding on the Influence of Chadwick Boseman in ‘Black Panther’: ‘I Began to Believe in Myself’

Mason Gooding
AP

In my younger and more vulnerable years, I was under the impression that by the time I could legally refer to myself as an adult I’d simultaneously be granted the luxury of self-confidence. That “self-confidence” would theoretically come both because of, as well as alongside, a physical and emotional maturity. However, as time passes, I wonder when my place in the universe will become entirely clear to me and, ideally, those around me. I wonder where the ubiquitous quirks and little foibles inherent to who I am will rest amongst the notches and nuances of my “community.”

I’m often made aware of the pitfalls of “self-reflection” and “self-worth” when put into the context of how other people view me, especially at a time in which other people’s opinions — both of me and things in general — are so readily available at the click of a button or the swipe of a finger. The formulaic nature of social media and the subsequent dedication to viral trends can oftentimes perpetuate a feeling of “sameness,” as if “fitting in” is more important than “feeling seen” or “appreciated.” I wonder, presumably on my lonesome, if this feeling is something unique to me, or if everyone else thinks about it as much as I do. We swim upstream, caught in the proverbial river of self-doubt and insecurity of which much of western culture procures its value.

I will never forget the first time I saw Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther.” Obscured among a sea of enraptured faces, I sat fixated on what an adolescent version of myself would have never thought possible. Call me a skeptic, but the over-abundance of heroes, idols and icons that more often than not looked nothing like me eventually allowed my psyche to slip into the dangerous notion that perhaps the way I looked was not in line with how the rest of the world saw a “protagonist.” That’s certainly not to belittle or invalidate the remarkable accomplishments achieved by any and all heroes or leaders that came before my time; merely that I had not been made aware of their influence and progressive contributions to society that I have the privilege of enjoying today. I sat quietly amongst the audience, engrossed with a sense of communal pride as the movie began. What followed was, for me, entirely transformative.

Despite it being apparent to any and all who knew him or were lucky enough to watch him work, I feel it worth mentioning that Chadwick Boseman was profound; he was entirely unique and prolific, on and off the screen or stage, and in all aspects of his life. For the rest of the world, his iconography and influence on the zeitgeist of entertainment today is something remarkable to bear witness to, like a time capsule of Black excellence that embodies how seeing, oftentimes, truly is believing. It was in watching Chadwick as T’Challa that I began to believe in myself. I saw a version of myself, my brother, my friends, that I had only afforded myself in my wildest imagination; in this, I was not alone, but one of millions. For the first time in forever, I was meeting myself, and I liked what I saw.

Like most people, I spent the vast majority of my youth with a laundry list of insecurities. I figured I’d never embody my own ideals of perfection that were so readily available in a character like T’Challa, perhaps because I was never shown that I even could. However, it was the support of the people like me, who found the same inspiration and validation through T’Challa, that I realized the road to self-improvement, to self-love, to self-respect, came from loving the pieces of yourself that are often at odds with the rest of the world. Sometimes all it takes is acknowledging, or representing, so that other people may feel the exact same way that you do.

“In times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.” – Chadwick Boseman as T’CHalla in Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther” (2018).

Mason Gooding is an actor, best known for his roles in “Scream,” “Love, Victor” and “Booksmart.” He will next be seen in the HBO Max comedy film “Moonshot,” which debuts in March. Gooding is a third-generation entertainer, son of Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding Jr. and grandson of the late soul singer Cuba Gooding.

Throughout the month of February, Variety will publish essays from prominent Black artists, artisans and entertainment figures celebrating the impact of Black entertainment and entertainers on the world at large.