John Boyega reflects on bringing up ‘Star Wars’ race issues: ‘I wanted to discuss the elephant in the room’

John Boyega made waves last fall when he complained about the treatment of actors and characters of color in the latest Star Wars movies.

The British GQ interview predictably circulated around the globe, especially considering the trilogy that made Boyega a star – 2015’s The Force Awakens, 2017’s The Last Jedi and 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker – had generally been viewed as making progressive leaps in the Star Wars universe by casting a woman (Daisy Ridley), Latino man (Oscar Isaac) and Black man (Boyega) as its three leads. Boyega, though, made it known he felt marginalized in the role of Finn, the stormtrooper-turned-Rebel Alliance fighter who’s never quite front-and-center — or nuanced a character — as Rey (Ridley) or central villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

“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 told the magazine, also bemoaning the treatment of Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico.

Now, in a new interview with NPR’s Fresh Air guest interviewer Sam Sanders, Boyega reflects on the comments he made and the attention they received.

“I think I wanted to discuss the elephant in the room that is easily dismissed sometimes, easily seen as a selfish act, a way to put the attention on you,” says Boyega, who most recently starred as a 1980s British police officer bent on changing the system in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology series.

John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac in 'The Rise of Skywalker.' (Disney/Lucasfilm)
John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac in 'The Rise of Skywalker.' (Disney/Lucasfilm)

Boyega also elaborated on his issues with Star Wars: “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.”

Boyega pointed to another Marvel property, Disney+’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier — which introduced Anthony Mackie as the new Captain America — as a series that respectfully elevated its Black hero.

The actor explained how his complicated relationship dated all the way back to his casting, when he received death threats and heard threats of boycotting because of the new trilogy’s diverse casting — and his Black stormtrooper, especially. In China, marketing for The Force Awakens minimized Boyega’s involvement by shrinking his presence on the poster.

“As you go along and all these issues pile on top,” Boyega explained. "I just thought it was quite important to say something, so it's not an elephant in the room. And I think that more 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.”

Watch John Boyega talk Small Axe:

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