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John Boyega opens up about 'Star Wars' experince, highlights limits of representation

John Boyega is a British-Nigerian actor who played Finn in the latest movies of Disney's "Star Wars" franchise. He recently opened up about being discriminated against while playing the role.   – Photo by Wikimedia

John Boyega is not just Finn from the “Star Wars” franchise. He is a British-Nigerian actor, producer and activist who is making a difference both on and off-screen. The video of his improvised speech in Hyde Park’s Black Lives Matter protest went viral, viewed and shared millions of times. People were moved by his powerful, grief-stricken words: 

“I need you to understand how painful it is to be reminded every day that your race means nothing! That isn’t the case any more. That is never the case any more. We are a physical representation of our support for George Floyd. We are a physical representation of our support for Sandra Bland ... for Stephen Lawrence, for Mark Duggan!” he said.

Last week, GQ magazine released Boyega’s first interview since “Star Wars” ended. His tell-all about the Disney experience went viral, sparking a conversation about the realities of race in Hollywood. This conversation is nothing new, but Boyega is the first Black actor in recent memory brave enough to speak out against the mega corporation. 

“What I say to Disney is do not market a Black character as important and then push them aside,” Boyega said.

The actor has never shied away from speaking out against racist fans on social media, defending himself and his co-stars Kelly Marie Tran and Oscar Isaac from such comments. 

“I feel like, especially as celebrities, we have to talk through this filter of professionalism and emotional intelligence,” Boyega said in the interview. “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.”

The article certainly sheds some light on the struggles Boyega went through during his time on ”Star Wars,“ but none of this was a secret for fans. Anyone who pays any sort of attention to behind the scenes news, has actually watched the movies and is not racist, can tell you what has happened: many “Star Wars” fans are racist, homophobic, sexist and resistant to any change in the status quo, and Disney listened to them. 

“Like, you guys knew what to do with Daisy Ridley, you knew what to do with Adam Driver,” Boyega said. “You knew what to do with these other people, but when it came to Tran, when it came to Boyega, you know f*** 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.”

Both Boyega and Isaac, two of the main trio, have spoken out against Disney and refuse to do anything else related to it or “Star Wars“ for the near future. And I can’t blame them. Their characters started off in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” with great potential: Boyega’s Finn, the Stormtrooper-turned good guy, and Isaac’s Poe Dameron, the rebel pilot with a heart of gold. Isaac and Boyega wanted what fans wanted for their characters — to be the first gay couple in “Star Wars“ (and Disney as a whole). Surprising no one, that didn’t happen. 

For many people things started going south in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” when Finn and Poe had separate secondary storylines to Ridley and Driver’s main plot. I don’t fully agree with this — I actually love “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” but I see where people are coming from. The movie is definitely not perfect, but I appreciate what director/writer Rian Johnson was trying to do with the franchise by changing things up. 

But it’s clear to see here that both Boyega and Isaac’s characters took a backseat in terms of nuance.

“They gave all the nuance to Driver, all the nuance to Ridley. Let’s be honest. (Ridley) knows this. (Driver) knows this. Everybody knows. I’m not exposing anything,” Boyega said.

The final film of the franchise “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is a direct response from Disney executives concerning “Star War: The Last Jedi”: It removed all story progression for Finn and Poe’s arcs, making them nothing more than supporting characters, and removed Tran’s Rose Tico almost entirely from the film, leaving her with less than 2 minutes of screentime.

It’s hard to say how much of this was J.J. Abrams’ directorial decisions and how much was Disney, but Boyega clears it up a little by saying: “Everybody needs to leave my boy alone. He wasn’t even supposed to come back and try to save your sh**.”

After the release of the GQ article, people jumped to make assumptions about who to blame in this situation: Did Johnson ruin everything “Star Wars” related? Was it Abrams’s fault for reducing Finn’s role to only screaming Rey’s name over and over again? Was it all “Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s” fault or was “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” to blame? 

I think people are missing the point here. If people actually read the article, then they would know that Boyega didn’t blame anyone other than Disney for this. This is an issue that is bigger than a single director or writer. 

This is about mega-corporations caring about diversity in their films only when it’s convenient to do so. It’s about only having a Black man as a main character because of how good it’s gonna look in a headline. It’s about ruining that man’s excitement about Black representation in a film as culturally important as “Star Wars,” and damaging his character’s storyline beyond repair thanks to a few extremely loud, racist “fans.“

It’s sad that a franchise that’s supposedly all about love and acceptance is so crowded by racist, sexist and disgusting individuals, because the people yelling these obscenities at the actors are as much to blame for this as the people who listened to them. Disney listened to them, believing the move would produce more money, and ruined its films for the sake of it. 

“As a POC trying to get into the film industry, Boyega is a true inspiration. Anyone scared or surprised about his claims is honestly blind. It’s 2020 and white men still make most decisions in the industry. Enough is enough,” said Twitter user @payasopascal.

I’m glad Boyega isn’t with Disney anymore and can speak freely about his experiences. I hope that he continues to do so, that his career will not suffer due to it. He means so much to so many people across the world, not just as Finn from “Star Wars” but as Boyega, a man.

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