Kathleen Kennedy, President of Lucasfilm, had an honest and transparent conversation with Star Wars actor John Boyega regarding his criticisms.
Star Wars sequel trilogy star John Boyega says he had a "transparent, honest" phone call with Lucasfilms President Kathleen Kennedy regarding his criticism of the studio's treatment of characters and actors of color. Boyega, who stars as the force-sensitive rebel Stormtrooper Finn, has criticized Finn's place in the series. Though Boyega, the first Black actor to star in a lead role in the franchise, was featured very heavily in promotional material, he was underutilized in the film itself. Despite his character's potential, the film dedicates no time to his character arc. His personal conflict is primarily dealt with in his first appearance. It's not just Finn, however, as Boyega expanded his criticism to the nonexistent arcs of Kelly Marie Tran's Rose Tico and Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron. Many of Boyega's costars made their support for him clear, including Tran, Dameron, and lead actress Daisy Ridley. "All the nuance," Boyega argued, went to Ridley's Rae and Adam Driver's Kylo Ren.
Thrust into the international spotlight by Star Wars, Boyega has used his unique experience and exposure to become one of Hollywood's most vocal activists. During Black Lives Matter protests in London following the death of George Floyd, Boyega delivered a powerful speech, despite the risk such outspoken activism may have had on his career. After being cast in The Force Awakens and during his stint as Finn, Boyega says he received hate mail, threats, and a barrage online due entirely to his race. Unfortunately, he's not the only one. Tran was bullied so severely online that she was forced to delete Instagram posts. After continuous abuse, Tran was all but written out of the franchise, appearing for just over a minute in the finale. In light of the untoward hate that actors of color received from toxic fans, Boyega insisted that Disney stand by their actors and protect them.
Deadline reports that in a conversation with the BBC, Boyega shared that he had a supportive discussion with Kennedy on many of the complaints he has lobbied against Lucasfilms and Disney. Though Boyega is moving on, he is eager to affect change in the studios and the industry based mainly on his negative experience. Boyega spoke to the importance of strong representation beyond fan service and transparency becoming the norm. Read his full quote below:
"I think these kinds of conversations, you can go into the realm of sounding like you’re just trying to save your own career, but what is great now is that it is a conversation that anyone has access to. Now people can express themselves about this knowing that any character we love, especially in these big franchises like the Marvels and Star Wars, we love them because of the moments that they are given, we love them because of those moments, and they’re heroic moments that these producers all decide for these characters so we need to see that in our characters that are maybe black and from other cultures.”
It's commendable that Boyega made his voice heard despite the potential for further backlash towards him. The attention and platform that Star Wars granted Boyega has been put to good use, beginning sensitive conversations with the people at the top. Kennedy isn't the first to speak earnestly with him, as an unnamed Disney executive has also heard him out. Actions, of course, speak louder than words, and it remains to be seen whether Lucasfilms, Disney, and others listening in will improve their handling of people of color.
It comes as no surprise that Boyega is done with Star Wars. For a franchise that has had actors such as Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford return decades later to reprise their roles, it's lost a good one. Hopefully, it will be a lesson. Just as the Me Too movement shone a spotlight on despicable practices in the industry, the BLM movement and vocal activists like Boyega are drawing attention to inequity in storytelling.