After criticizing how Star Wars treated characters of color, John Boyega calls on studios to better protect their actors from racial backlash.
John Boyega says when an actor faces public backlash for being cast in a high-profile role, the studio should step up and protect them. Since completing his arc as Finn in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, Boyega has recently been vocal about his mixed experience with the franchise, particularly when it comes to issues of race. He has quickly garnered a reputation for his honesty and directness when speaking to the public, setting him apart from much of publicity-conscious Hollywood.
The recent Star Wars films are no stranger to racial controversy. Following the release of Rian Johnson's polarizing The Last Jedi, actress Kelly Marie Tran faced significant online harassment of a frequently racist nature, forcing her to delete all her posts on Instagram. Her character was then all but cut out of The Rise of Skywalker, leading to speculation that the studio sidelined Tran to avoid further backlash. Boyega expanded that criticism to include the franchise's handling of all its characters of color, including Finn and Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron. His comments earlier this year called out Disney executives for not knowing what to do with its non-white cast members, resulting in multi-film storylines that failed to live up to their initial promise.
However, Boyega's recent interview with Variety and iHeart's podcast "The Big Ticket" suggests they've since developed a more constructive dialogue. Though very clear that he has no plans to return to Star Wars anytime soon, he says he has spoken with Disney executives about how to better handle diverse high-profile casting in the future. It starts, Boyega says, with advocacy in the face of backlash:
When one of your actors, especially an actor that’s so prominent in the story, is announced as part of your franchise and then it has a big racial backlash and receives abuse online and that starts to form a shadow on what is supposed to be an amazing gift, it is important for the studios to definitely lend their voice, lend their support to that and to have a sense of solidarity not just in the public eye, but on the ground on set. These are honest conversations that I have had with the powers that be about having more awareness of this, so that it's not really about me because it's now not an elephant in the room. Next time you cast someone in that position, you bring them through this process. They need that support. They can't get Boyega-ed.
As he lays out elsewhere in the interview, Boyega's suggestions come directly from his personal experience. His casting in Star Wars thrust him very suddenly into a global spotlight after coming from a theatrical and indie background. While that transition is challenging for any actor, he was unprepared for the additional scrutiny his race would bring him. Boyega has become a face of the Black Lives Matter movement in the film industry after his rousing speech at a London protest in June won him widespread acclaim, and that a studio like Disney is listening to his concerns is a reason to be hopeful about their future approach to representation on screen.
That said, more cynical readers might point out that Disney is particularly averse to controversy of any kind, and has tended to quickly distance themselves from it rather than sit in it to defend their creatives. The (temporary) firing of director James Gunn from Guardians of the Galaxy 3 after his old jokes about sensitive topics on Twitter suddenly made headlines comes to mind as a recent example. Only time will tell if Boyega's activism can bring about real change in a slow-moving industry.