Back in June John Boyega made headlines when he gave an impassioned, impromptu speech at a Black Lives Matter protest in London. In it, he said, “I don’t know if I’m going to have a career after this, but fuck that.” Celebs like Jordan Peele, Olivia Wilde, and his Star Wars director JJ Abrams took to Twitter to assure John that they’d still love to work with him.
Now, John’s continuing that honesty streak in a new interview with GQ. He discusses Black Lives Matter, his personal journey to self-actualization, and being a Black actor in the Star Wars franchise. He says that he, along with other actors of color like Naomi Ackie, Kelly Marie Tran, and even Oscar Isaac (whom John refers to as “a brother from Guatemala”), were trotted out to sell the movies, but sidelined in the actual films.
“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 says Black characters in blockbusters are “always scared, they’re always fricking sweating”, and that the “reordered character hierarchy” in The Last Jedi was basically bullshit:
“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.”
John goes on to defend JJ Abrams, saying, “Everybody needs to leave my boy alone. He wasn’t even supposed to come back and try to save your shit”.
He also talks about a stylist he hired when he first got famous “cringing at certain clothes I wanted to go for”, and a hairdresser who had no clue how to work with his hair (which he’s now wearing long in tightly plaited braids [don’t get any ideas, Adele!]). He says at first he was happy to be involved with Star Wars, and went along with everything, but always remembered his father’s words:
“’Don’t overpay with respect.’ You can pay respect, but sometimes you’ll be overpaying and selling yourself short.”
John’s casting in The Force Awakens received a lot of racist backlash from “fans”. At the time, he publicly waved it off, but in reality, it really affected him:
“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.”
Here’s John’s post about the interview:
And more of the interview from GQ:
I watched all the new Star Wars movies (I know, gimme a medal!), and I can hardly remember John, Kelly Marie Tran, or Oscar Isaac in the third one. To be fair, though, I got very, very drunk while watching it. Like, how did that crap even end? Something about a battle in a cave? And a giant dude with a bulbous testicle head? And Richard E. Grant was there for some reason? Riiiight, and then Richard and I made love on top of a spaceship while Emperor Palpatine watched. Nope, wait. That was a dream from last night. Nay, FANTASY.