Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude
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Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude

John Boyega’s Rebel Ridge Exit and the Narrative of the 'Difficult' Black Actor

Netflix stated the actor exited for 'family reasons,' but THR sources said he left abruptly, sparking a conversation on blacklisting outspoken Black actors.

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John Boyega takes part in an anti-racism demonstration in London, on June 3, 2020.
John Boyega takes part in an anti-racism demonstration in London, on June 3, 2020.
Photo: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP (Getty Images)

I hope John Boyega is OK.

That was the thought that immediately came to mind as I read The Hollywood Reporter’s recent report regarding the actor’s exit from Jeremy Saulnier’s upcoming Netflix film Rebel Ridge. Following Boyega’s exit, Netflix released an official statement noting that the reason for the departure was due to “family reasons.”

THR’s report adds:

But other sources say that in fact, Boyega simply walked away from the production with filming underway—which, according to one person with knowledge of the situation, the filmmakers only discovered when they looked for him at his hotel and found that he had checked out.

According to sources, there seemed to be no one incident that prompted Boyega to leave in the midst of shooting. Several insiders, however, say the star had myriad issues ranging from the script to his accommodations.

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The report also went on to state, via sources, “Dozens of crewmembers on the project were let go after Boyega’s departure as the production disbanded. The shutdown may be temporary, however. Sources say the new plan is to resume shooting with a new lead early next year.”

Hmmm.

“I can categorically say that these rumours are completely untrue,” Boyega’s agent Femi Oguns wrote in an emailed statement to THR. “People will form their opinions often rooted from boredom. As stated John unfortunately left due to family reasons which in truth is none of anyone’s business except his own. John and Netflix have a wonderful relationship which will continue to grow for years to come whether that be through his acting or through [Boyega’s production company] UpperRoom.” THR also noted that director Saulnier declined to comment.

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Boyega has previously spoken plainly about possible repercussions following his involvement in a 2020 protest for the Black Lives Matter movement. During the protest—his first—he called out the inherently racist structure of Hollywood, noting, “I don’t know if I’m going to have a career after this.”

In fact, Boyega recently appeared at a THR Drama Actors’ roundtable, where he expounded on this very issue. Sharing his thoughts in hindsight on his protest speech and whether he believes doors of opportunity were closed, he said:

Yes, there are individuals in powerful places that would respectfully take a distance and be like, “You know, that boy is trouble.” (Laughs.) But the [lesson] for me is to see that as a God-given filter and not to see that necessarily as an attack. Because to survive the times, and I’m speaking about mental health, the way in which you see things, your perspective, needs to be an ever-changing model. And remember, I didn’t plan to speak that day, but the megaphone was in my hand and it was like, “Oh, shit, I might as well say what’s on my mind.” It was the first time I’ve ever protested, I’ll be honest. I don’t come from [an] activist family. But there were a lot of emotions pent up, and people were going crazy and, yeah, naturally I was like, “Oh shit, some exec is going to view that and be like, “Pull that bitch. Pull him.”

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With that in mind, while I can’t definitively say what’s going on here for ethical and legal reasons, I can’t help but have questions—questions accompanied by a heavy squint while reading this report. It’s the furrowed brow of a cynical Black woman working in Hollywood who’s seen this before…countless times. And, of course, it’s certainly not unique to this one industry—I mean, we’re living in America, for fuck’s sake. It reeks of the syndicated narrative chronicling the outspoken Black actor who has the nerve to challenge the status quo by painting them as “difficult,” resulting in blacklisting, hit pieces and similar erasure. To name a few similar examples in this ongoing conversation: Ray Fisher, Gabrielle Union, Nicole Beharie, Candice Patton and so on, and so on, and so on.

It’s none of our business why Boyega left and it’s his right to expound on his reasoning when/if he’s ready. (Naomi Osaka is also prevalent in my mind right now as I write this) That said, I have a duty to point out the suspicious timing of this subsequent industry report, especially as I witness my community clock it, too.

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What’s really going on here? We have questions—and we deserve concrete answers.

The Root has reached out to Boyega’s representatives, THR and Netflix to comment further on this matter, including the blacklisting speculation that has transpired in response. Netflix has informed us they have no further comment.