Recently John Boyega sat down with GQ magazine, and made the following statements which may provide us with weeks of glorious schadenfreude.
Other directors agreed. And, in 2014, he found himself brought into the Star Wars fold by JJ Abrams. Cue his reveal as a conflicted Stormtrooper once known as FN-2187, an absurd attempted boycott, the fourth highest-grossing film of all time and, laterally, the millions that enabled Boyega to surprise his parents with their own brand-new house three years ago. Yet, again, this is another instance when Boyega seems keen to revise the public record on how something really played out. Whereas previously he responded to the flagrantly racist commentary that greeted his casting in The Force Awakens with bullishness (“Get used to it :)”, as his since-deleted Instagram response post had it), now he is keen to discuss the lasting psychic wounds that an ordeal like that leaves.
“I’m the only cast member who had their own unique experience of that franchise based on their race,” he says, holding my gaze. “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.”
He has made peace with a lot of this now (following that intense 2017 period he attended therapy to deal with some “horrible personality traits, [such as] anger”) but he lets his point settle as our mocktails melt to minted slush on the low table between us.
In the continued afterglow of that first, franchise-defibrillating Star Wars film, he continued to notice a stylist he’d hired when he first started doing press “cringing at certain clothes I wanted to go for”, the hairdresser who had no experience of working with hair like his but “still had the guts to pretend”, and he decided that he could no longer grin and bear it like a grateful competition winner. “During the press of [The Force Awakens] I went along with it,” he notes. “And obviously at the time I was very genuinely happy to be a part of it. But my dad always tells me one thing: ‘Don’t overpay with respect.’ You can pay respect, but sometimes you’ll be overpaying and selling yourself short.”
“It’s so difficult to maneuver,” he says, exhaling deeply, visibly calibrating the level of professional diplomacy to display. “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.” He is talking about himself here – about the character of Finn, the former Stormtrooper who wielded a lightsaber in the first film before being somewhat nudged to the periphery. But he is also talking about other people of colour in the cast – Naomi Ackie and Kelly Marie Tran and even Oscar Isaac (“a brother from Guatemala”) – who he feels suffered the same treatment; he is acknowledging that some people will say he’s “crazy” or “making it up”, but the reordered character hierarchy of The Last Jedi was particularly hard to take.
“Like, you guys knew what to do with Daisy Ridley, you knew what to do with Adam Driver,” he says. “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.”
I’d like to hear Rian Johnson explain the “reordered character hierarchy of The Last Jedi.” I’d also like to read the legacy media that called critics of The Last Jedi racist, examine just exactly what all of this means. And maybe JJ Abrams can talk about this the next time he promotes Black Lives Matter.
Thanks to Thuy Ong for the tip.
UPDATE: Two hours after this article went live, Disney / Lucasfilm promoted the news that ‘The Mandalorian’ Season 2 would begin streaming October 30. They provided no trailer, only a blue version of the show’s logo. Damage control?
— Star Wars (@starwars) September 2, 2020
Originally published here.