It takes courage to speak out for a cause, especially when your profession is very much on the line. That certainly didn’t stop British actor John Boyega from becoming a powerful spokesperson for Black rights during a rally at London Hyde Park back in June, when the unjust death of George Floyd reignited the global Black Lives Matter movement.
The decision is not one made in the spur of a moment, no. It’s the culmination of Hollywood’s long-standing neglect of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) talent and the unpleasant racial experiences faced while filming, of which the man himself was subjected to – on the set of Star Wars, no less.
In an extensive interview with CQ magazine, Boyega opened up about his frustrations with Disney’s marginalisation and poor treatment of diverse characters in the trilogy. Citing his own character Finn as an example, he talks about how the stormtrooper-turned-Resistance-fighter started out strong, but quickly lose that promising spark along the course of the story.
“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,” he said.
“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— all.” He then added, “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.”
Boyega’s speech serves as a sobering reminder that the film industry, even beyond Hollywood, is much more capable of properly developing and grooming white talents than their BIPOC counterparts and other underrepresented groups. In The Rise of Skywalker, the character of co-star Oscar Issac – who is of Cuban and Guatemalan descent – was also noted to fall into the negative stereotype of being a former drug smuggler.
Speaking about the extent of racial prejudice, he shared, “I’m the only cast member who had their own unique experience of that franchise based on their race. Let’s just leave it like that. It makes you angry with a process like that. It makes you much more militant; it changes you. Because you realise, ‘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.”
And that frustration is certainly understandable. As Boyega seeks to give a voice to the BIPOC community with more talents likely to make their stand in due time, it’s hoped that Disney and the film industry will finally start to listen and understand.