John Boyega on His Viral Protest Moment and How 'Star Wars' Sidelining Made Him 'More Militant'

John Boyega
Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

'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.'

John Boyega is sharing his truth about moving on from Star Wars and getting active in the Black Lives Matter movement in a candid new interview with British GQ.

The actor made headlines this summer when he gave an emotional, impassioned speech at a protest in London following the death of George Floyd. 

"I'm speaking to you from my heart. Look, I don't know if I'm going to have a career after this, but f**k that," Boyega told the crowd in Hyde Park, fighting back tears. "Today is about innocent people who were halfway through their process. We don't know what George Floyd could have achieved, we don't know what Sandra Bland could have achieved, but today we're going to make sure that won't be an alien thought to our young ones."

"This is so vital," he added. "I need you guys to understand how painful this s**t is."

For Boyega, the emotional moment was cathartic, and necessary.

"I feel like, especially as celebrities, we have to talk through this filter of professionalism and emotional intelligence," he told British GQ of the viral moment. "Sometimes you just need to be mad. You need to lay down what it is that’s on your mind. Sometimes you don’t have enough time to play the game."

Playing the game, Boyega admitted, was something he became all too familiar with during his time filming and promoting the final trilogy of Star Wars' Skywalker Saga, an experience that soured for the actor in the years following his initial breakthrough casting in 2015's The Force Awakens

"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," he explained. "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."

The divide between Boyega -- and his BIPOC co-stars like Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran and Naomi Ackie -- and the franchise's white leads became even more stark during The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, where his Stormtrooper turned Rebel fighter, Finn, was relegated to more of a supporting role after initial hints that the Force-sensitive character might be a more important chess piece in the franchise's epic conclusion.

"It’s so difficult to maneuver," the actor admitted. "You get yourself involved in projects and you’re not necessarily going to like everything. [But] 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 Boyega, Tran faced massive racist backlash after her character, Rose Tico, was introduced in The Last Jedi, and was also ultimately sidelined -- Rose appeared briefly, and mostly inconsequentially, for just a few scenes at the end of Rise of Skywalker.

"Like, you guys knew what to do with Daisy Ridley, you knew what to do with Adam Driver," Boyega added. "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**k 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 shared the interview on social media on Wednesday, with an awareness of how it would be received that could only come from a seasoned veteran of online harassment. He cautioned the ultra-opinionated Star Wars fanbase to read all of his remarks in context before making judgments on his quotes about the franchise.

"All the non readers are exposing themselves today," he tweeted, alongside a series of emoji. "If you can’t read the full article pls pls let your top lip and bottom lip become one."

"These conversations and me sharing isn’t about a witch hunt. It’s about clarity to an anger that can be seen as selfish, disruptive and self indulgent. Obviously in hopes of better change. Bruh. In short. I said what I said. Love to you all seriously. Your support is amazing!"

These days, Boyega said, he's most interested in taking care of his mental health and well-being, and taking on projects that ignite his passion for performing. Next up, he stars in Steve McQueen's Small Axe as a Met policeman in 1980s London, who was inspired to join the force and try to invoke change after witnessing his Jamaican father's assault by two officers. Though it's a period piece, it feels incredibly relevant -- both to the cultural moment at hand and the creative catharsis Boyega is seeking after years of struggling in the restrictive machine of a major franchise.

"Steve [brought] up things I could relate to and comes with a creative mind like I’ve never experienced before," he said of the project. "It reminded me of my happiest days at drama school. Being on set was like I’d been given the chance to breathe."

See more on Boyega in the video below.


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