Boseman was born and raised in South Carolina, to Carolyn and Leroy Boseman, both African American. According to Boseman, DNA testing has indicated that his ancestors were Krio people from Sierra Leone, Yoruba people from Nigeria and Limba people from Sierra Leone. His mother was a nurse and his father worked at a textile factory, managing an upholstery business as well. Boseman graduated from T. L. Hanna High School in 1995. In his junior year, he wrote his first play, Crossroads, and staged it at the school after a classmate was shot and killed.
Boseman attended college at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and graduating in 2000 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in directing. One of his teachers was Phylicia Rashad, who became a mentor. She helped raise funds so that Boseman and some classmates could attend the Oxford Mid-Summer Program of the British American Drama Academy in London, to which they had been accepted.
Boseman got his first television role in 2003, in an episode of Third Watch. His early work included episodes of the series Law & Order, CSI:NY, and ER. He also continued to write plays, with his script for Deep Azure performed at the Congo Square Theatre Company in Chicago; it was nominated for a 2006 Joseph Jefferson Award for New Work. In 2008, he played a recurring role on the television series Lincoln Heights and appeared in his first feature film, The Express: The Ernie Davis Story. He landed a regular role in 2010 in another television series, Persons Unknown.
He lived in Brooklyn at the start of his career. Boseman worked as the drama instructor in the Schomburg Junior Scholars Program, housed at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York. In 2008, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.
Boseman had his first starring role in the 2013 film 42, in which he portrayed baseball pioneer and star Jackie Robinson. He had been directing an off-Broadway play in East Village when he auditioned for the role, and was considering giving up acting and pursuing directing full-time at the time. About 25 other actors had been seriously considered for the role, but director Brian Helgeland liked Boseman's bravery and cast him after he had auditioned twice. In 2013, Boseman also starred in the indie film The Kill Hole, which was released in theaters a few weeks before the film 42.
In 2014, Boseman appeared opposite Kevin Costner in Draft Day, in which he played an NFL draft prospect. Later that year, he starred as James Brown in Get on Up. In 2016, he starred as Thoth, a deity from Egyptian mythology, in Gods of Egypt.
In 2016 he started portraying the Marvel Comics character T'Challa / Black Panther, with Captain America: Civil War being his first film in a five-picture deal with Marvel. He headlined Black Panther in 2018, which focused on his character and his home country of Wakanda in Africa. The film opened to great anticipation, becoming one of the highest-grossing films of the year in the United States. He reprised the role in both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, which were released in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Both films were the highest grossing of the year they were released, with Endgame going on to become the highest grossing film of all time.