John Boyega discussed the marginalization and difficulties he experienced while working on Star Wars in an interview with British GQ. The piece marked his first major conversation about the films since the franchise’s main saga wrapped last year with The Rise of Skywalker.
Boyega didn’t downplay the opportunity and career-boost playing Finn — the Stormtrooper-turned-Rebel hero — provided, but was upfront about how fraught his involvement with the franchise was from the start. News of his casting in 2015’s The Force Awakens elicited a blatantly racist backlash from some Star Wars fans, and he described how that abuse lingered and spurred his recent turn toward activism.
“I’m the only cast member who had their own unique experience of that franchise based on their race,” Boyega said. “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 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.”
On top of that external abuse, Boyega described how subtler biases slipped into the scripts and filmmaking process. While he acknowledged it’s natural to not like everything about a given project, he stated, “[W]hat 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 argued that other characters played by actors of color — including Naomi Ackie, Kelly Marie Tran and Oscar Isaac — were similarly nudged to the side over the course of the three films.
“Like, you guys knew what to do with Daisy Ridley, you knew what to do with Adam Driver,” Boyega said. “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. 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 next project is Red, White and Blue, one of five films in Steve McQueen’s new anthology, Small Axe, about life in London’s West Indian community (the project will arrive on Amazon Prime Video later this year). Boyega said of the experience: “Steve [brought] up things I could relate to and comes with a creative mind like I’ve never experienced before. It reminded me of my happiest days at drama school. Being on set was like I’d been given the chance to breathe.”
McQueen, who also spoke with British GQ for the story, added that he hopes to work with Boyega again soon: “Right now, he’s dangerous. And that’s where I want to be.”