John Boyega Gets Candid About ‘Star Wars’ Racism: ‘I’m in an Industry That Wasn’t Even Ready for Me’

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Nearly nine months after his final appearance in the Star Wars franchise, John Boyega is getting candid about his experience playing the first-ever Black Stormtrooper. “I’m the only cast member who had their own unique experience of that franchise based on their race,” he told British GQ in his first post-Star Wars interview. “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 realize, ‘I got given this opportunity but I’m in an industry that wasn’t even ready for me.'”Boyega went on to recount the negativity that met his casting in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Trolls announced racist boycotts of the movie and sent death threats to his Instagram DMs, Boyega recalled. “Nobody else had that experience. But yet people are surprised that I’m this way. That’s my frustration,” he explained. Boyega acknowledged that while co-starring in the hit trilogy was an “amazing opportunity” and “stepping stone” in his career, Disney knew “fuck all” when it came to telling the stories of non-white characters.
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“You get yourself involved in projects and you’re not necessarily going to like everything,” he explained to British GQ. “[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.” Boyega also addressed the limited character arcs for cast members including Kelly Marie Tran, Naomi Ackie, and Oscar Isaac, as well as the racism they faced during their time in the films. “Like, you guys knew what to do with Daisy Ridley, you knew what to do with Adam Driver,” he continued. “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.”
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Behind the scenes, Boyega told GQ he even struggled through the Star Wars: The Force Awakens press tour with a hairdresser who didn’t know how to style Black hair. Boyega said his perspective on his career shifted after that period. “During the press of [The Force Awakens] I went along with it,” he remembered. “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.”
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During the months since his departure from Star Wars, Boyega said he has attended therapy. In June, the 28-year-old British actor went viral for speaking at his first-ever Black Lives Matter protest. During his emotional address to the crowd in London, he said, “I need you to understand how painful this shit is. I need you to understand how painful it is to be reminded every day that your race means nothing. That isn’t the case anymore. It was never the case…”In the hours since Boyega’s revealing remarks, Disney announced the release date for season 2 of its Disney+ series, The Mandalorian.

Savannah Walsh
Editorial Fellow
Savannah Walsh is an Editorial Fellow at ELLE.com.

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