Was John Boyega Marginalized in the 'Star Wars' Sequels?

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.

Kelly Marie Tran in 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'
Kelly Marie Tran in 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'

“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.

'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'
'Star Wars: The Last 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.       

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Your Comment

18 Comments

I think I should agree with him on this one: Boyega's character should have been fleshed out even more, so Disney should heed his words.
I"f 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." I agree with that. I need to start getting better at this part.
I am a screenwriter, trying to create characters for my stories, but I really should listen to this advice.
This is really a good idea.

September 2, 2020 at 8:31PM, Edited September 2, 8:32PM

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Jesse J. Tripp
Screenwriter
90

Doesn't take a lot of "courage" after you've made the movies (and have millions in the bank).

It would have taken some courage when he was shown the first script, because then he might have been sacked if he talked back about it.

But it was clear from the first script that Rey and Kylo would be the stars, so duh...

September 2, 2020 at 11:53PM

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No it wasn't clear from the first script. The first movie has him fighting Kylo with a lightsaber and the posters were all him with a lightsaber.

And he did mention how he and Tran got pushed aside right after the second movie released.

Lastly, if you've ever heard of being blacklisted, then you know that Boyega is taking a lot of risk coming out and saying things like this, about Disney no less.

September 3, 2020 at 7:06AM, Edited September 3, 7:07AM

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Justin Gladden
Producer
587

I don't know man. I mean he was a super dork in the first movie with an obvious "arc" ahead of him; why would I care about seeing him fleshed out in the next two films? Maybe if he'd actually communicated some depth or alluded to significant trauma given his apparent upbringing as a warrior slave that would have been interesting, but he treated himself like the space janitor his character was, so really, apart from the marginalization behind the scenes that I can't comment on, who cares about his character getting more screen time?

September 2, 2020 at 11:55PM

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geoff webb
Director, Producer, DOP, Editor
488

You say "he" like the character or the actor that played him were also the writers.

Also, you have to read the article to understand what's happening and what Boyega is saying. I think you missed a lot of the controversy.

September 3, 2020 at 7:08AM

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Justin Gladden
Producer
587

Know what they REALLY marginalized with those films? STAR WARS.

September 3, 2020 at 4:11AM

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chip brandstetter
Filmmaker, Editor, Animator, Sound Design, Composer
301

He's got a point until a point. I think given the inclusivity and female-driven casting they were going for It seems a bit cheap to me to play the race card when it may well have helped you get hired in the first place.

The real problem is the terrible writing throughout all of these newer films, the prequels were weird and campy but could you imagine what the same directors, VFX, creature, and set designers could do with those story beats now? The prequels were a great story badly told and this trilogy is a bad story well told.

Boyegas performance was certainly no slouch but the writers clearly had no idea what to do with him.

September 3, 2020 at 4:35AM

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I agree 98%. Only part that's off is him playing the race card. The color of his skin didn't get him hired, but Disney did use it to promote their faux inclusivity and get fans in the seats.

I agree 100% about Disney not having a clue what to do with him or Tran or anyone on screen really.

September 3, 2020 at 7:11AM

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Justin Gladden
Producer
587

"He's got a point until a point. I think given the inclusivity and female-driven casting they were going for It seems a bit cheap to me to play the race card when it may well have helped you get hired in the first place."

The sheer ignorance of this statement is mind-boggling. So you think being black helps one get hired in Hollywood, let alone Star Wars? If there are 7.6billion marbles in the world and 2000 marbles are needed for a movie and only 15 of those 2000 marbles are blue and the rest red, would you consider it being helpful to be a blue marble or a red marble to be hired? That's as simple as I can put it. SMH

September 3, 2020 at 8:28AM

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Being black certainly helps you get hired if the production is clearly casting with diversity in mind. That is the point I was trying to make.

Of course, there is a massive problem with diversity in general in front and behind the camera.

September 3, 2020 at 12:01PM

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It was probably his performance in Attack the Block that got him hired in the first place. He just happened to be the race for which Disney was rightfully looking.

As others have said, ultimately the problem with the Star Wars sequels is that Disney/Kathleen Kennedy rushed them out and handed each movie to an "auteur" to do as he liked instead of spending the time to create a unified trilogy, like Marvel did with its MCU. Boyega's and Tran's characters were the biggest casualties of this shockingly dumb mistake.

September 3, 2020 at 10:48AM

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The saddest part in all of this is that they wasted everyone's time. I don't think any character got a really solid arc ... a believable one anyway, or one that was inline with the events that "The Force Awakens" introduced.

September 3, 2020 at 7:13AM

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Justin Gladden
Producer
587

"Not only was he the first black protagonist of the Star Wars universe..."

Hmmm...wasn`t there this "little" character back in the old movies...Lando, or so? But hey, just a tiny character who had not much screen time, I guess...

September 3, 2020 at 8:41AM, Edited September 3, 8:41AM

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DingDong
1971

Lando is great, but his role in the story wouldn’t seem to meet the traditional definition of a protagonist in either original trilogy appearances. Maybe you just mean character or good guy but that’s not what the article is saying.

September 8, 2020 at 6:10PM

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Episode 7 was okay, but the best thing was how they managed to successfully introduce the new cast.
Rey, Poe, Finn, BB-8, Kylo and Phasma. It worked, they just needed to flesh everything out.
Instead they introduced so many new characters, brought back OT characters just to waste them.

It's too bad, to see that trilogy both failing as a new beginning and as a closing chapter for the OT characters.

September 3, 2020 at 10:06AM

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His character went to poop at the introduction of Marie Tran, or as I call her, R2-2D. Her character was so forced it was unpalatable

September 3, 2020 at 10:35AM

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Aaron Harper
Rental House Manager
396

The marginalization of Finn was one of the most disappointing things for me among a host of disappointing things about the Star Wars sequel trilogy. It almost seems like Rian Johnson’s main mission with The Last Jedi was to marginalize all the diverse characters (Finn, Rose, Ackbar) in to useless side quests or off screen deaths and just add more white leads like Holdo. I wonder what the movies could have been if Rian Johnson hadn’t gotten his racist fingers on it.

I’d love to someday see Finn show up in a Star Wars Prime show and ignore the last movies completely. Sadly it seems the more things get better, the more they stay the same. Finn and Rose deserved better.

January 1, 2021 at 1:52PM, Edited January 1, 1:52PM

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Some subjects are too hot to touch. I would like to think that I can see the person, not the race... or in this case... the actor.

November 9, 2021 at 12:57PM

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