John Boyega reflects on addressing racial issues surrounding Star Wars

Disney and the Star Wars franchise have been embroiled in several race-related controversies over the past few years, with the obscene abuse suffered by Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico) and the recent Bad Batch whitewashing controversy springing to mind. However, no issue has been more widely covered than the experience of John Boyega as Finn during the sequel trilogy. “I’m the only cast member whose experience of Star Wars was based on their race,” he told GQ last October.

Boyega revisited the topic in a new interview with NPR’s Fresh Air. The actor said that he “wanted to discuss the elephant in the room” and that such discussions about race are “easily dismissed sometimes, easily seen as a selfish act, a way to put the attention on you.”

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 16: (L-R) John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran attend the Premiere of Disney’s “Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker” on December 16, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images)

In the original GQ interview, Boyega accused Disney of cynically marketing his character as being “much more important in the franchise” than he would actually go on to be, adding that Finn was pushed to the side while the focus went to Daisy Ridley’s Rey and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. He noted that the same thing happened to Tran and her character.

While Boyega said he still enjoyed his time with the franchise, his negative experiences began on day one, with fans threatening to boycott 2017’s The Force Awakens over his casting. Then Disney minimized Finn’s presence of the movie’s Chinese poster, which focuses mainly on the white characters. Boyega says that the issues began to “pile on top” the longer he was involved with the franchise.

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.

John Boyega reiterates why talking about race in Hollywood is important

Speaking anew with interviewer Sam Sanders, Boyega pointed out that these issues aren’t as prevalent in other Disney properties; for instance, Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was praised for elevating a Black hero. Continuing with the Captain America comparisons, Boyega said that the quality of any individual character is determined by the script, with Finn being held back in the writing room despite having a lot of potential.

The characters are only as good as the moments that you give them. When we talk about, you know, Captain America [Chris Evans] 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.

Since Boyega first spoke out, others in the entertainment industry have gained the confidence to also similar issues. The actor said that “conversations have even been bubbling with other actors now in different projects and franchises … things that they noticed as well. And it’s a conversation worth having, to be honest.”

John Boyega most recently starred in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology series of films, featuring in Red, White, and Blue as a British police officer determined to change institutionally racist British policing. The entire series is available on Amazon Prime Video in the US and streams for free in the UK on the BBC iPlayer.

Star Wars fans, meanwhile, can catch up with the latest series from the franchise, The Bad Batch, on Disney+ every Friday.

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