John Boyega: Talking about racism is ‘not the elephant in the room’ anymore

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John Boyega covers British GQ because the magazine has done multiple covers for their “Men of the Year Awards.” Boyega won the GQ Icon award for his speeches and conversations around race and racism this year, plus he’s promoting his role in Steve McQueen’s miniseries Small Axe. In the interview, there’s a lot of talk about Boyega’s interview over the summer, where he directly criticized the way Disney handled his character, and how Disney has handled other non-white actors and characters within the Star Wars franchise. He also talks about how he stepped down from his Jo Malone ambassadorship this year too (because of racism). Some highlights:

On his comments about Disney & the Star Wars franchise: “You didn’t know what was going on, but it was like a little light against a batch of TNT. Because there were certain truths. So I knew what the process would be like for the audience and what people would say. But now it’s not the elephant in the room – which is brilliant. Now it’s not an alien conversation to have and so I feel like my role has been fulfilled in terms of the discussions I’ve had since.”

He’s had conversations with other actors about feeling used to look “diverse”: “Loads of people got in touch and reached out, people who are just starting out their careers as actors and also some established people who stay quite silent about what they go through… It’s complicated, because beyond what we post on Instagram and Twitter there’s a whole life of different discussions and experiences. And I guess because sometimes when you have financial stability, you feel too scared to speak up about anything that’s worrying you because people will just be like, ‘You have money. Shut up.’”

He had conversations with Star Wars people too: “I’ve spoken to [Star Wars director] JJ [Abrams], I’ve spoken to [Lucasfilm president] Kathy Kennedy and it was a transparent, open conversation,” he begins, in a low voice. “[Kathy] keeps in touch and will drop me an email once in a while. It was great to share our different ideas and concerns and just speak about it honestly. And for me, man, it’s very hard to get people to that point. Sometimes you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do. So it was a very beneficial and positive conversation and I really appreciate the fact that she reached out.”

On the Jo Malone thing: “I just unfortunately find myself navigating a space where these challenges come up.” Some in Boyega’s orbit were advising him to accept Jo Malone London’s apologies and “reconcile”, but, well, that was never going to happen. “Reconcile? Reconcile? That kind of brand relationship is based on the value that you both bring to each other. There were so many phenomenal individuals [involved in making those campaign films] that it broke my heart not to be able to work with them again; my nephews were in the last ad we did. But the great thing is that you jump off one thing and all the other corporations come out. And because now when someone is approaching me they have much more knowledge of who I am as a person, I find their campaigns are much more related to what I’m about. But it’s all good, you know? You live and you learn. Or, at least, they lived and they learned.”

On the lockdowns & dealing with time off: “It’s just, like, chill. Relax, man. It’s, like, who do we owe? Are we being hard on ourselves as a human race? Damn, I really saw the value in procrastinating for three days. Really, I’ve been struggling with the work-ethic sh-t. I work very hard. But like any ingredient, you don’t want too much of one thing. And rest is that little thing in my pot that makes everything make sense.”

[From British GQ]

Yeah, there’s not much new here – I do think Boyega was brave to speak about how badly Disney handled the race issues around Star Wars, but even then… what he said had already been said by critics and culture writers, which is that the last trilogy was f–king painful on so many levels. As for the Jo Malone thing… I think it’s the same as his Disney criticism, there will be studios and companies and producers who don’t want to work with Boyega now because they perceive him as a “radical” or someone who will criticize them publicly if they f–k up. But I also think Boyega has A) stayed true to who he is and B) won new fans and earned the respect of many colleagues. But yeah, it will be interesting to see what work he does get in coming years.

John Boyega

Cover courtesy of British GQ, additional photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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7 Responses to “John Boyega: Talking about racism is ‘not the elephant in the room’ anymore”

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  1. Sigmund says:

    I’m glad he spoke with Kathleen Kennedy, but I hope higher ups were made aware of his comments, too. I know there were a lot of questions about Iger micromanaging the last film, due to some comments from Abrams. And the last film was the absolute worst of all them in its handling of POC.

    Disney and LF need to give more consideration and weight to better storytelling through representation, as well as treating their actors who are POC respectfully, and hopefully they are now realizing that simply throwing someone who isn’t white in front of a camera isn’t good enough. Some days I still think about what the sequel trilogy could have been if it had been better planned out and actually utilized its talented and diverse cast.

  2. Darla says:

    It’s interesting. Star Wars got it wrong. (and their fan base has a lot of toxicity in the mix). DC got it wrong. The way Ray Fisher was treated is a nightmare. And an ongoing one. But Marvel, who were very late to anything other than white men, nailed it pretty good. With Black Panther obviously, and also Falcon who they went and made Captain America, a strong statement IMO.

    I don’t know what to make of it but I dearly hope DC catches up at least. They can be so much more.

    • Digital Unicorn says:

      Disney and LF pretty much pander to the toxic white a$$holes of the SW fandom, esp when it came to those last 3 movies. Hopefully they take the opportunity to do better with the spin off series that are in development.

    • Whereami says:

      Darla, Ray Fisher brought on a lot of his problems himself. I am a nerd and I think his Cyborg sucked, to be honest. Also, I am so sick of everything being blamed on the White Men of Hollywood. Do any of you think that maybe, these actors and actresses just plain suck? Just because your a POC doesn’t mean your any good. Have to earn it just like everyone else.

      • JC123 says:

        We’ve lived in a world where mediocre (at best) white men were given opportunities denied to the very best POC. Nobody has ever said “just because your White doesn’t mean your any good” (it’s you’re btw). So these issues happening in are not put at the feet at the “White Men of Hollywood,” but rather the systemic issues that even allowed for the people in charge to be almost completely White and Male. “Earning it” has always looked very very different for POC vs. White people, in Hollywood and everywhere else. It’s disingenuous at best to suggest that if a POC hasn’t “made it” in an industry, it’s simply because s/he hasn’t “earned it,” or that “earning it” requires the same amount and type of work from a POC than from a White person.

        It’s telling that after a few months, a couple years at the MOST of people asking these questions and having these conversations, (some) people are already “sick” of it. Odds are because these conversations will (hopefully) lead to more shared power and a more diverse and inclusive film industry, and that is a threat to those in power and those who like going to the movies and seeing themselves represented in 99% of films. Those who only deem certain (i.e. white) movies acceptable for awards, praise, and high box office numbers.

      • FF says:

        How did Ray Fisher bring problems on himself by pointing out a toxic work environment and saying it’s not acceptable?

        You conflated two issues there, the aforementioned and you not liking Ray’s Cyborg. The second is down to your personal taste and whoever cast Fisher. The first, again how is reporting a toxic work environment causing problems? He was pretty much supported on that point. Whedon even got removed from his new HBO show.

        And it’s not all white guys. Sometimes it’s white women too. John Boyega’s Star Wars character Finn had zero development for three films. You don’t think it’s weird that the trilogy starts with two people who don’t know their parents and have upbringings of privation and only one has it mentioned repeatedly and resolved in the plot. You don’t think it’s someone’s fault a PoC was cast as a lead at the start and made a support by the end? And pointblank used as a marketing racebait and switch – not a new phenomenon, btw, just see Nicole Beharie on Sleepy Hollow for more of the same treatment.

        I don’t think all white guys are to blame but you’d be remiss to ignore that the business is all about giving white guys careers into old age, despite the number of repeated flops they have. I mean, just look at how Chris Pratt started. Then think of all of his female and PoC costars and tell me his career makes total sense absent of that caveat.

        Pointing out the white guy system in Hollywood does nothing more that voice an opinion. No one’s losing a paycheck for it being said. Far from it.

  3. Tiffany says:

    I think John is going to be fine. While they are not bragging and patting themselves on the back for Twitter recognition bragging they will work with him (coughcougheverywhitedirectorwhoshouldreadtheroomandwilltotallynotworkwithhimifthestudiowillnotgivethemmoneycoughcoughcough), there are some Black power players who will be more than happy to give him first access to scripts and productions.