Like his Star Wars character Finn, John Boyega is a trooper in the midst of the storm in that he’ll get his work done—but best believe, he’ll fight for what is right, even if it means ruffling a few establishment feathers (also like Finn).
What wasn’t right (and downright disgusting) was the racist treatment he received during his Star Wars trilogy journey and beyond. Shit, from his very first epic reveal (when he rose into the frame in a Stormtrooper suit during the opening of the first Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser) to now, Boyega has faced countless racist attacks. These have only exacerbated since he became more outspoken and used his large celebrity platform in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. And despite the bigoted backlash, Boyega has not backed down. Nor does he plan to anytime soon.
In his first formal interview since his Star Wars experience and his powerful BLM speech during the London protests, Boyega spoke with British GQ about his evolution, his upcoming role in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe and he even told a fascinating story about the time he was stranded at sea in Nigeria.
“I’m the only cast member who had their own unique experience of that franchise based on their race,” he said. “Let’s just leave it like that. It makes you angry with a process like that. It makes you much more militant; it changes you. Because you realize, ‘I got given this opportunity but I’m in an industry that wasn’t even ready for me.’ Nobody else in the cast had people saying they were going to boycott the movie because [they were in it]. Nobody else had the uproar and death threats sent to their Instagram DMs and social media, saying, ‘Black this and Black that and you shouldn’t be a Stormtrooper.’ Nobody else had that experience. But yet people are surprised that I’m this way. That’s my frustration.”
As mentioned, the very existence of Finn caused controversy, especially as a Black stormtrooper who wielded the lightsaber. Of course, the Black community and those of us with some damn sense were excited to see such representation in this way. However, that excitement was short-lived when it became apparent that Finn wasn’t going to be developed as richly as the character was teased. This is an occurrence Boyega also believes happened to other cast members of color such as Kelly Marie Tran (who shared in her own terrible experiences due to racism), Naomi Ackie and Oscar Isaac.
“It’s so difficult to maneuver,” he mused. “You get yourself involved in projects and you’re not necessarily going to like everything. [But] what I would say to Disney is do not bring out a Black character, market them to be much more important in the franchise than they are and then have them pushed to the side. It’s not good. I’ll say it straight up.”
“Like, you guys knew what to do with Daisy Ridley, you knew what to do with Adam Driver,” he added. “You knew what to do with these other people, but when it came to Kelly Marie Tran, when it came to John Boyega, you know fuck all. So what do you want me to say? What they want you to say is, ‘I enjoyed being a part of it. It was a great experience...’ Nah, nah, nah. I’ll take that deal when it’s a great experience. They gave all the nuance to Adam Driver, all the nuance to Daisy Ridley. Let’s be honest. Daisy knows this. Adam knows this. Everybody knows. I’m not exposing anything.”
Of course, since Boyega spoke out in this way, it generated a lot of buzz. Yes, that includes the hit dogs hollering when he opened up about the racism he endured.
“These conversations and me sharing isn’t about a witch hunt,” Boyega wrote on Twitter, shortly after the cover story was released. “It’s about clarity to an anger that can be seen as selfish, disruptive and self-indulgent. Obviously in hopes of better change. Bruh. In short. I said what I said. Love to you all seriously. Your support is amazing!”
You are amazing, John Boyega.