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John Boyega Attracts New Nigerian Fans to Star Wars

John Boyega

When we talk about representation being important, it’s not just to do with gender or ethnic representation here in the States. Film is a global medium, and blockbuster films that allow countries not usually represented in mainstream film to see themselves are equally important. Now, Star Wars is finding all sorts of new fans in Nigeria thanks to The Force Awakens‘ John Boyega.

Boyega is the son of Nigerian immigrants to the UK, and he’s always expressed pride in his Nigerian heritage, even responding to racist haters complaining about his casting by saying on his Instagram, “I’m grounded in who I am and I am a confident black man, a confident, Nigerian, black, chocolate man.”

Now, Boyega playing one of the leads in The Force Awakens – coupled with a general growth in Nigerian geek culture in recent years – is bringing Nigerian fans to Star Wars in droves, and in a way they never really flocked to the franchise before. Chinelo Onwualu of NPR’s Goats and Soda recently interviewed Nigerians in the capital city of Abuja who’d recently seen the film.

Kemi Williams, now 50, has been a Star Wars fan since she saw the first film when she was 12. However, she feels that the effect the franchise had on her was limited, because she could never see herself or anyone like her in the films and it was “always white people putting these things out.” Seeing Boyega gives her hope for what Star Wars can now offer her children and grandchildren:

It’s significant to me because my son was sitting next to me, and it was a big deal for him to see a character who looks like him. When I was little I never had that.

She’s also proud that Boyega has made it such a point to shout-out his heritage, and believes that his casting will help more Nigerians see the possibilities in science fiction storytelling:

What’s important is that he’s out and proud about being a black man. The fact that he’s Yoruba has a resonance within Nigeria. He’s one of us, and it’s something we can relate to.

The fact that [Boyega] is a Stormtrooper — who are assumed to be white males underneath their masks — opens up a lot of possibilities. It opens up people’s minds.

For 30-year-old Chiagoziem Okoronkwo, it’s less important that Boyega is Nigerian – after all, there are many other prominent actors of Nigerian descent like Chiwetel Ejiofor, Carmen Ejogo, David Oyelowo and Megalyn Echikunwoke – and more important that the role itself isn’t stereotypical:

Most black guys get typecast. If they’re not the supersmart magical negro, they don’t get cast. [Boyega’s] role was a bit different.

John Boyega as Finn contributes to a broader interest in science fiction and fantasy in Nigeria, evidenced also by the rise of comic conventions there (like Lagos Comic Con) and speculative fiction magazines like Omenana, which was started by Onwualu.

It’s a great time to be a Nigerian geek!

(Image via Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

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