John Boyega on Why We Need to Keep Pushing for a More Diverse Hollywood

John Boyega on Why We Need to Keep Pushing for a More Diverse Hollywood
John Boyega at the BAFTA British Academy Film Awards in February 2020. (Photo: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images, Getty Images)

After his Star Wars tenure came to a somewhat disappointing conclusion, John Boyega wasted no time using his sizable platform to speak openly and candidly about the very real issues present within the multibillion dollar space opera franchise and the entertainment industry at large. In a new interview he discussed how his peers feel about it and lays out what more can still be done.

Unsurprisingly, Boyega’s candor drew criticism from many who felt that he should have been satisfied and grateful simply for having been cast in Star Wars to begin with. Finn’s creation for the most recent Lucasfilm trilogy was an important step toward making the franchise more inclusive and bringing more leading Black characters to the screen. But Boyega’s experiencing receiving an inordinate amount of racist backlash and harassment for portraying one of Star Wars’ few prominent Black characters was and continues to be an important snapshot of how a certain segment of the public responded to a Black actor’s star rising in Hollywood. Between the way Finn’s importance to the newer films was downplayed in certain advertisements, and how the character’s arc ultimately ended up feeling like more of an afterthought by The Rise of Skywalker’s ending, it was fair to say that Disney and Lucasfilm dropped the ball on their end.

To some, Boyega speaking publicly about these things was in bad form and an attempt to draw attention to himself. In a recent interview with NPR Fresh Air guest interviewer Sam Sanders, Boyega spoke about how he’s well aware of this idea that’s out there about him, but explained that much of this energy is just the result of him being transparent about the kinds of conversations happening off-camera. “Well, I think I wanted to discuss the elephant in the room that is easily dismissed sometimes, easily seen as a selfish act, a way to put the attention on you,” Boyega said. “I wanted to discuss an issue that I discussed with actors on set, an issue that I had discussed with, you know, professional individuals, execs, producers who I’d meet, whether at award shows or meetings, who were noticing the same things I’d noticed.”

Boyega stated that in the weeks and months after he began speaking about his Star Wars experience, he began hearing back from other Black actors who felt that he’d given them an example to point to in their negotiations working their own gigs. “And I think those conversations should be had,” Boyega said. “And I’m glad at the time I was able to say something about it. And then also, when that conversation is now out there, I’ve spoken to actors who have said, ‘Now we can make a reference, bro. You don’t understand. Now we can have a discussion with the director.’”

Though Boyega’s best known for his acting, in 2016 he also launched Upperroom Entertainment Limited, the production company that co-produced Pacific Rim: Uprising. Speaking about his behind-the-screens work, Boyega got into how he’s looked at figures like Tyler Perry and Macro (the company behind Judas and the Black Messiah and Sorry to Bother You) CEO Charles King as examples of the kinds of strategic moves that can be made to put one’s self in a position to enact change in Hollywood. You can see that change in the number of projects being greenlit and brought to screens featuring Black actors, but Boyega also pointed out it’s important to understand how these kinds of projects come together in order to get a better picture of how the industry operates. “I’m starting to look about these teams and sometimes the streaming platforms that could sometimes play into the diverse game just through acquiring projects,” Boyega detailed. “Like, you know, is the diversity coming from the decision-makers on your team, you know, the execs, the producers? Or is it coming through you acquiring, you know, Black projects and just buying them?”

Regardless of how these series and films come together, what always ends up being key to whether characters catch on in the public’s mind is presenting them in a way that makes them impactful. This is something that’s partially accomplished through things like advertisements, but mainly through the text of the stories themselves and those special moments in movies that make you feel about characters. To Boyega, Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier set out to give Sam Wilson the sort of special moments meant to make his becoming Captain America feel right in the wake of Avengers: Endgame, for example. “We’ve got people now watching Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and a lot of people have been commenting about the elevation of Falcon’s character, right?… in the series and how they’ve really done well with bringing him up, which I also agree as well,” Boyega said. “You know, and we can see there is… that’s because you give characters these special moments.”

With the newly-announced Attack the Block sequel on the horizon, it very much seems like Boyega intends to live by example and continue to invest his time and energy into building up another franchise that people have been asking for more of. It’ll be interesting to see what moves he makes next, if only to take notes.