A British GQ interview with Black Star Wars actor John Boyega blew up Wednesday as he called out Disney, the owner of the storied space opera, for treating him and other actors of color differently than the franchise’s white starlets, and his comments resonated with social media users who applauded Boyega for speaking truth to power.
“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,” Boyega told GQ in reference to his Star Wars character, reformed Stormtrooper Finn, being less visible after The Force Awakens.
“You guys knew what to do with Daisy Ridley, you knew what to do with Adam Driver,” Boyega said of the trilogy’s two main stars, adding, “but when it came to [Vietnamese American] Kelly Marie Tran, when it came to John Boyega, you know f—k all.”
“Everybody knows” that the nuanced character development went to Ridley and Driver, Boyega claimed, adding “I’m not exposing anything.”
“That was the bravest interview I’ve seen in a very long time,” Matthew Cherry, the Black Academy Award-winning director of Hair Love tweeted, adding, “I hope that King prospers in all things.”
“Wow John Boyega. Thank you,” wrote Colombian-American actress Rachel Zegler, set to appear as Maria in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming remake of West Side Story.
According to culture critic Kayleigh Donaldson, when Disney has “so wholly weaponized concepts of fandom, identity, and cultural heft, it’s genuinely radical and important for John Boyega to call out the obvious disparities.”
“I’m the only cast member who had their own unique experience of that franchise based on their race,” Boyega told GQ. “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.’”
Boyega was on the receiving end of a tidal wave of protest following his 2014 casting in The Force Awakens. A racist boycott took hold on Twitter using the hashtag #BoycottStarWarsVII, with protesters claiming the film promoted “anti-white genocide,” according to the Hollywood Reporter. “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,” Boyega told GQ. Costar Tran also received similar backlash when she was cast as Resistance crew member Rose Tico, which became so severe she eventually deleted her Instagram account.
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If Disney or other Star Wars actors speak up. Boyega seemed delighted in the response to the interview on Wednesday, tweeting, “In short. I said what I said. Love to you all seriously. Your support is amazing!”
The GQ interview also delved into Boyega’s impassioned speech at a London Black Lives Matter protest in June. Video of his words (“I need you to understand how painful it is to be reminded every day that your race means nothing!”) went viral, but Boyega said nothing about his address was planned. “I feel like, especially as celebrities, we have to talk through this filter of professionalism and emotional intelligence,” he told GQ. “Sometimes you just need to be mad.”