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Remember the first time you saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens, or even the trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Do you recall thinking, “I think that Finn guy, the stormtrooper who defected, I think he’s going to be a big deal”? The Star Wars universe loves it when heroes come from relative obscurity and do the brave thing—like, say, help a Resistance pilot escape the First Order. Finn, it seemed, was destined for great things.
John Boyega, the actor who plays Finn, thought so too—but he doesn’t anymore.
In an interview published this week in British GQ, Boyega says that while Daisy Ridley’s Rey and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren got full, nuanced story arcs, characters like Finn and Rose Tico were sidelined by the finale in The Rise of Skywalker. “You get yourself involved in projects and you’re not necessarily going to like everything,” he told the magazine. [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 … 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.”
His comments were, unsurprisingly, immediately picked up. Everywhere. As they should be. One of the many things that got lost in the discourse around the new Star Wars trilogy by the time it reached Rise was what happened to characters like Rose and Finn, whose storylines promised big endings and never delivered. There was plenty of discussion about diversity in Star Wars more broadly—much of it the result of a handful of toxic fans decrying inclusion—but far less about what happened with those characters once their stories unfolded onscreen. As Boyega noted, he’s not talking about anything that wasn’t already known—he’s just saying it out loud. “What they want you to say is, ‘I enjoyed being a part of it. It was a great experience …’” he said. “Nah, nah, nah. I’ll take that deal when it’s a great experience.”
What’s probably most egregious, beyond the obvious, is that while Boyega was in the Star Wars films, he was the one often facing down the trolls who were displeased with his presence in them. As recently as last month, they were in his Twitter mentions upset about his role in the franchise. To have to defend one’s place in a franchise that hasn't even given them proper treatment is the ultimate insult to injury. “I’m the only cast member who had their own unique experience of that franchise based on their race,” he told GQ. “It makes you angry with a process like that … Because you realize, ‘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 I’m this way. That’s my frustration.”
Boyega’s comments aren’t the first time he’s been vocal about racism. Earlier this year, following the death of George Floyd, he addressed a crowd at a protest in London, saying, “Black lives have always mattered. We have always been important. We have always meant something. We have always succeeded.” At the time he wondered aloud if speaking out would harm his career. It doesn't seem like it has. Yet, the death of Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman a week ago, following a long and private bout with colon cancer, is a reminder of what people will endure just to work and what actual heroism looks like. This week, as news of Boseman’s passing spread, people referenced his work in the MCU, but just as many remembered the work he did with terminally ill children and his speech at the Screen Actors Guild Awards about what it meant to “be young, gifted, and Black” in Hollywood. Finn and T’Challa are heroes onscreen; thousands, if not millions, of people look up to them. But Boyega and Boseman are also lionhearts IRL—courageous far beyond anything they’ve ever done in a film.
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