John Boyega is opening up about being a Black actor in the Star Wars franchise.
More is finally being revealed about John Boyega and his experience working on the sequel series of Star Wars, and the story is coming straight from Boyega himself. The actor was featured in his first interview since finishing Star Wars, and he’s never been more candid about his experience.
Boyega is on the cover of this month’s British GQ, and in the feature story published today, he’s made one thing clear: having the opportunity of a lifetime was never easy and fully there for him to enjoy. A majority of that unfortunate reason, as he points out, is because of his experience being a Black actor.
But before Boyega’s claims get dismissed, conversations like these have to be taken with open ears and an open mind. Just because Boyega did have the privilege to work on something as monumental as Star Wars, it doesn’t invalidate the terrible experiences he faced working on the film.
So without further ado, here’s an excerpt from the article detailing just the surface of one of Boyega’s experiences with the film:
"In the continued afterglow of that first, franchise-defibrillating Star Wars film, he continued to notice a stylist he’d hired when he first started doing press “cringing at certain clothes I wanted to go for”, the hairdresser who had no experience of working with hair like his but “still had the guts to pretend,” and he decided that he could no longer grin and bear it like a grateful competition winner. “During the press of [The Force Awakens] I went along with it,” he notes. “And obviously at the time I was very genuinely happy to be a part of it. But my dad always tells me one thing: ‘Don’t overpay with respect.’ You can pay respect, but sometimes you’ll be overpaying and selling yourself short.”"
Stylists were just the tip of the iceberg when it came to what Boyega revealed in the story. The true problem, as many fans have pointed out as well, was the fact that his character, Finn, was largely held back in the films. (The story also notes that the other actors of color including Kelly Marie Tran [Rose Tico] and Oscar Isaac [Poe] received this sort of treatment as well.)
For example, Finn wielded a lightsaber in The Force Awakens, but that was really only contained to that movie. And even by the final movie when Finn did want to reveal he was Force-sensitive, that entire plot was swept under the rug, never to be addressed. Like Rose and Poe, Finn had so much potential, but his character ultimately never reached his highest.
Here’s what Boyega had to say on that subject:
"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. 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*ck 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, Boyega is known to have a very good relationship with Daisy Ridley, and it doesn’t look like he’s holding anything against Driver either. But this problem is something worth speaking up over. These issues will continue to happen internally at movie studios and in media in general if no one speaks up.
But the treatment wasn’t only internalized at the studio. Boyega opened up about his reception from the Star Wars fandom as well:
"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."
The plain fact is that harassment and death threats of any kind are not okay, and it’s unfortunate that this was Boyega’s experience. Needless to say, any actor would have loved to be part of this legacy franchise, but these things have to be called out. Boyega’s experience isn’t an anomaly, and it’s no secret that many Black actors and actresses throughout history have faced the same treatment as Boyega — many just suffering silently in order to get by.
And it isn’t just a matter of, “Well, why didn’t they just speak up if they felt this way for so long?” Unfortunately, if cases like these don’t fall on deaf ears, then the actors would have their entire careers put in jeopardy if they so much as questioned those in authority. We’ve seen it in cases like the Me Too movement, down to more recent cases like the Ellen Show scandal. Seeing as major changes have already been made on those fronts, it’ll be interesting to see what happens to Disney and Lucasfilm now that Boyega’s voice has been heard.
It takes bravery to speak out, even if others don’t want to hear it. So while Boyega may not have felt like a true hero in the film franchise, he’s certainly a hero for speaking out now.