John Boyega: "I’m the only cast member whose experience of Star Wars was based on their race."
The newest Star Wars trilogy has been mired in controversy since it debuted. And with it ending last year, people are starting to fully understand their feelings and frustrations with the endeavor. One of those people was part of the movie's star ensemble, John Boyega.
Since the moment we saw him as a Storm Trooper who dared to take off his helmet and join the resistance, the audience knew Boyega was special.
Not only was he the first black protagonist of the Star Wars universe, but he emanated charisma and earnestness that made you root for him enthusiastically.
As The Force Awakens ended, we were sure the story of Finn was going to be integral for where Star Wars could go in this new era. And John Boyega was on the same page as us...until the sequels happened.
In a frank and truthful interview with GQ, Boyega also suggests his fellow diverse major cast members, including Naomi Ackie, Kelly Marie Tran, and Oscar Isaac, were all victims of similar fates.
“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,” commented Boyega.
Boyega was the target of many racist and toxic fans over the course of making the movie. Almost more than any other actor in the films, headlines always swirled around how he was treated. One of the things that made me love Boyega all the more is that he was unafraid to call these fans out. Whether on Twitter or in interviews, he was unapologetically striving to be seen and heard in this universe.
And he cared about his castmates being seen and heard, too.
“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,” he continued. “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.”
He added that some of the film’s white cast members did not suffer the same underwriting, “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.”
Boyega continued to speak about how being a person of color in the Star Wars universe might have led to being treated with a certain amount of aggression based on his blackness, saying, “I’m the only cast member who had their own unique experience of that franchise based on their race… 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.”
I don't think you can watch the Star Wars sequels and not be mad that they seemingly wasted the most interesting character's backstory. We really don't know much about where Finn came from, and he never gets to arc either as a hero or even as a Jedi.
For his part, Boyega does not blame anyone specifically and even gives JJ Abrams a break, mentioning that he only came back to save Disney after the firestorm that was The Last Jedi. But it is frustrating that we get this hero needed in a universe and then lose him. He's not wrong about his other cast members either.
I know they kept Oscar Isaac's character alive after initially wanting to kill him off, and that his arc suffered when they lost the ability to make Princess Leia a key piece of the final chapter, but with a property this important you would think they would pump the brakes and make sure they got it right.
Kelly Marie Tran's Rose basically was a wall fixture in the final film.
Boyega will star in a Steve McQueen picture next and has his own company, so it'll be interesting to see what projects he develops for himself in the coming years, but I think Disney should heed his message.
If you're going to preach inclusivity, it cannot just include faces in the crowd...it must include substantial stories that give nuance and breadth to the character's journey.
Only time will tell if they listen.