In his first substantial interview since completing the Star Wars trilogy, John Boyega aired his grievances over the franchise's – and Disney as a whole's – mishandling of non-white characters. According to the actor, one thing is clear: the film industry has failed people of color.
In the interview with Jimi Famurewa for GQ, Boyega addressed the series' noteworthy shortcomings in how it addressed his character Finn, as well as other POCs who were introduced in the new films. "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," he said.
When Boyega was cast in 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, his character effectively became the first protagonist of the series played by a black actor — a role that was heralded – and hated – for its inclusivity. However, it turned out to be an empty promise. Finn, a former stormtrooper, played an important role in the first film, but then largely dropped off to become more of a background character as the following films focused more on Rey and Kylo Ren, played by Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver.
The actor explained that he wasn't the only one cast aside, it was every person of color involved in the movies who he feels suffered the same treatment. "Like, you guys knew what to do with Daisy Ridley, you knew what to do with Adam Driver. 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 f**k all [...] 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.”
Beyond the storyline, Boyega reflected on how ill-equipped big studios are to deal with Black talents. For instance, he shared how the hairdresser had no experience of working with hair like his but “still had the guts to pretend.” Also off-set, Boyega encountered racist attacks by Star Wars fans who protested the casting of a Black person in the role. "I'm the only cast member who had their own unique experience of that franchise based on their race," Boyega said. "It makes you angry with a process like that. It makes you much more militant; it changes you."
These experiences made him question if there was even room for someone who looked like him to exist in an industry built to white standards. Disney and the film industry at large have a habit of sidelining of people of color in tentpole projects. Boyega points out that blockbuster's POC characters are both underplayed and underrepresented.
For Boyega, the struggle with racism extends beyond his career. His reckoning with racism in the film industry spurned a personally transformative period, which culminated in a powerful speech at recent Black Lives Matter protests in London. The actor revealed to GQ that the incredibly moving, viral moment was completely unplanned. “I feel like, especially as celebrities, we have to talk through this filter of professionalism and emotional intelligence,” he says. “Sometimes you just need to be mad. You need to lay down what it is that’s on your mind. Sometimes you don’t have enough time to play the game.”
As anti-racism protests set off by the murder of George Floyd swept across the globe, Disney released a statement in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and their "Black employees, storytellers, creators, and the entire Black community," along with a $5 million pledge to anti-racist causes. The move was necessary and important in a time when Hollywood faces backlash for its overt and covert racism. However, Boyega's criticisms remind us to stay militant and ask the question: is Disney keeping the energy that they’re claiming in this moment, or was this energy just an opportunity for them to cover themselves during the middle of a publicity nightmare of their own creation?
Head over to GQ, to read John Boyega's full interview.