John Boyega's Still Fighting the Good Star Wars Fight, and Kathleen Kennedy Is Listening

John Boyega at a Black Lives Matter protest in Hyde Park.
John Boyega at a Black Lives Matter protest in Hyde Park.
Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images (Getty Images)

In the early days of John Boyega’s post-Star Wars career, he almost immediately pivoted to using his platform and the extraordinary amount of focus on him to draw attention to the difficult, and often frustrating realities of being an actor of color associated with the massively popular franchise. Beyond troll-y fans, Boyega leveled much of his criticism at Lucasfilm and Disney themselves.

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Between the haphazard handling of the series’ non-white characters and pushback from the fandom for insisting that he should stay quiet and simply be thankful for even being linked to Star Wars, Boyega could be forgiven for being more than a bit frosty about his entire experience. But in a recent interview with the BBC, Boyega detailed how speaking out against his problems led to having a “transparent, honest” conversation with Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy about the whole of it.

“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.”

At the heart of Boyega’s recent comments about the issues plaguing the Star Wars is the very real idea that, as companies in control of these popular legacy franchises become more inclusive—particularly when it comes to on-screen representation—the companies have a responsibility to actually support their traditionally marginalized employees in meaningful ways. Compared to characters like Rey, Kylo Ren, and even General Hux, both Finn and Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico ended up being relatively sidelined by the latest trilogy’s conclusion despite initially being presented as key players within the larger story.

During the interview, Boyega also took care to mention that the reasoning behind his insistence on discussing these problems has less to do with trying to defend his own career, and more about how important it is to understand that what he’s getting at is far larger than just Finn, Rose, or even Star Wars. When franchises (especially one predominantly centered on white-reading characters) finally include characters of color, and then the fandom reacts with hostility, the company’s response can and often does set the tone for the discourse going forward.

By spending so much time overlooking the ways in which Finn’s role was downplayed (see: Boyega’s positioning in certain Star Wars promotional material), and subsequently giving him a rather messy character arc, Lucasfilm and Disney send the implicit message that the fandom’s hostility toward these sorts of characters—and the living, breathing people portraying them—is OK. Much noise as Boyega’s personally made about this ugly facet of the industry, it’s impossible that the studio heads who’ve been paying attention somehow don’t understand what the actor’s saying.

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What, if anything, those in positions of power, like Kennedy, are actually going to do to address these problems is the main question now.

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Charles Pulliam-Moore is an NYC-based culture critic whose work centers on fandom, pop culture, politics, race, and sexuality. He still thinks Cyclops made a few valid points.

DISCUSSION

ComradeDread

Finn’s arc should have been from reluctant rebel to discovering he was a symbol and inspiration to other disaffected stormtroopers to a full blown rebel leader who inspires a popular revolt in the First Order against Hux and Ren that helps tip the scales in the finale.

Poe’s arc should have given him the opportunity to show that he had evolved from being a loner pilot who could blow shit up into an actual military leader who used the knowledge Leia gave him to plan and execute a successful final assault instead of just charging in guns blazing yet again.

I’m not sure what to do with Rose, but I’m sure we could come up with something better than giving her a glorified cameo. Hell, even with a glorified cameo, maybe make it lead into something more substantial, like, “I’ve been recruited by the Intelligence division to find out who’s pulling the strings and financing this war” and send her off on a one or two season spy show on Disney+.