boyega star wars finn

John Boyega on Marvel, Star Wars, and Disrupting the Industry

Boyega continues his fight for a more equitable and inclusive Hollywood.

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Few actors speak truth to power like John Boyega. After skyrocketing to international fame as Finn in the Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Boyega was the target of racist vitriol from toxic fandom, with little in the way of studio support. As the trilogy continued, he found his role increasingly marginalized both onscreen and in advertising for the films. And while the historically racist playbook of Hollywood would have him be grateful for the opportunity despite his mistreatment, Boyega remains committed to speaking truth to power. In doing so, he is setting a new standard for Black actors and other marginalized performers.

In an interview with NPR Fresh Air guest interviewer Sam Sanders, Boyega discussed his relationship with Star Wars, the Marvel cinematic universe, and his future in the industry.

In response to his candid GQ interview where he described himself as “the only cast member whose experience of Star Wars was based on their race”, Boyega said, “Well, I think I wanted to discuss the elephant in the room that is easily dismissed sometimes, easily seen as a selfish act, a way to put the attention on you. I wanted to discuss an issue that I discussed with actors on set, an issue that I had discussed with, you know, professional individuals, you know, execs, producers who I’d meet, whether at award shows or meetings, who were noticing the same things I’d noticed.”

He also expounded on the importance of nuanced representation, and giving marginalized characters their own big heroic moments. It’s not enough to cast someone to check the diversity box: these roles must be given the same character development, attention, and screen time paid to their white colleagues. Boyega discussed Marvel’s push toward inclusivity, citing The Falcon and the Winter Soldier:

“The characters are only as good as the moments that you give them. When we talk about, you know, Captain America and him kind of facing off Thanos and his army, when you talk about these moments that are given to characters, it’s only because these moments are written by somebody. These moments are put in there on purpose to elevate characters.

We’ve got people now watching “Falcon And The Winter Soldier,” and a lot of people have been commenting about the elevation of Falcon’s character – right? – in the series and how they’ve really done well with bringing him up, which I also agree as well. You know, and we can see there is – that’s because you give characters these special moments, you know. But then what then happens when, you know, some moments feels like you’re being bypassed and it kind of goes for years and years and things pile on? Remember, there were so many different issues with the Chinese poster and, you know, the crescendo of that.”

Boyega also discussed the importance of prioritizing Black audiences, and the cultural impact of films like Black Panther, saying, “We’ve got to remember, man, like – come on, guys, man. Look at what we done, man, when we saw our people in Wakanda – look at what we done with those numbers. You know, not to say it was just us, but look at the way we poured into that just in a celebratory sense, in terms of our passion. We are the – we are an amazing fanbase. But it will be great to see that, you know, come to us as well.”

He also discussed how speaking out about his Star Wars experience empowered other Black actors to do the same. “I’m glad at the time I was able to say something about it. And then also, when that conversation is now out there, I’ve spoken to actors who have said, ‘Now we can make a reference, bro. You don’t understand. Now we can have a discussion with the director.’”

Between Boyega and Ray Fisher, it’s so important to see Black actors speaking truth to power and calling out the racism inherent in the film industry. In doing so, they inspire the next generation of performers to speak up and demand better, more equitable treatment.

(via NPR, image: Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)

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Author
Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.