Black Panther Goes Blue—Chadwick Boseman Plays New York City Police Officer In “21 Bridges”
“You got twenty-one bridges in and out of Manhattan, shut ‘em down; Three rivers, close ‘em; four tunnels, block ‘em; Stop every train and loop the subway. Then, we flood the alley with blue.”—This is the plan that Chadwick Boseman’s character devises to catch a pair of cop killers in the new Brian Kirk directed and Russo Brothers produced action-thriller “21 Bridges.”
Over his illustrious acting career, Boseman has been prominently casted to play historical black figures in movies that thematically center around race. In this decade alone, he has portrayed Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. His most recognizable character, however, is the fictional superhero Black Panther, who appears in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With a story that focuses on African culture and global race relations, Black Panther’s standalone movie raked in over a billion dollars at the box office and earned Marvel its first Best Picture Oscar nomination.
Needless to say, Boseman has been a major supporter of contemporary black cinema, frequently playing the leading man in movies that celebrate the African and African American experience. Whether he is belting out “Get Up” or leading a chant of “Wakanda forever,” the forty-one year old Howard University graduate actor is bound to bring elements of black pride and dignity to his roles.
Anti-hero set-up suites, ultimately and makes for a strong performance
It is therefore somewhat curious that Boseman’s newest character is a member of the New York City Police Department. In “21 Bridges,” Boseman plays Detective Andre Davis, the son of an NYPD officer who died in the line of duty years ago. Now, Davis is but a disgraced investigator, but when eight cops are killed during a Manhattan armed robbery, he is recruited to find the culprits and possibly redeem himself in the process.
To carry out this task, Davis locks down the island, and the movie becomes a game of cat and mouse as he tries to squeeze out the criminals. As Davis digs deeper, though, he uncovers greater truths about the situation and realizes that he may be a part of something much larger than the events occurring around him.
On the surface, “21 Bridges” does not seem to have anything to do with race. Superficially, it looks like nothing more than a generic police-centered crime movie. At the same time, though, given the theme of cop-killing and Chadwick Boseman in the lead role—not to mention that most of the other law enforcement in the film are played by white folks and one of the culprits is played by Stephan James from “Selma,” “Race,” and “If Beale Street Could Talk”—it seems safe to say that one of the film’s many twists will eventually put us face to face with race-related conflicts.
The movie’s trailer hints at this ever so fleetingly. In a brief shot where Boseman is standing off with James in a subway car, we hear James say “You’re the only cop tonight who speaks first and shoots second.” Because Boseman plays what seems to be the only black cop in New York and that James plays a black man in jeopardy, this statement is likely not without racial undertones. Thus, although it may not be noticeable at first, “21 Bridges” could very well be a movie that engages in racial themes.
If Boseman delivers on the role and the plot is compelling enough, then it could add to the actor’s ongoing filmography that so far specializes in bringing black stories to wider audiences and starting crucial dialogues about race and society in American cinema and culture.
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