The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Pay attention to John Boyega’s real words, not the space adventure where he got short shrift

Star Wars star John Boyega speaks to the crowd during a Black Lives Matter protest in London's Hyde Park. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Placeholder while article actions load

John Boyega’s real-life resistance was anything but filtered for the ears that needed to hear what he had to say.

“I need you to understand how painful it is to be reminded every day that your race means nothing,” Boyega shouted to a crowd during a Wednesday protest at Hyde Park in London. “And that isn’t the case anymore. That is never the case anymore. … We are a physical representation of our support for George Floyd."

His words were bold, brave and deep, serving as a voice for Floyd’s memory and the cruel familiarity that his death brought to black people everywhere.

Do not let the fun-loving image of Boyega as Finn from Star Wars guide your thoughts as you witness him in London, protesting for the relevance of black lives and demanding that they be treated with equal honor and respect.

Boyega’s vocal frustrations take place in reality. Not the confines of sci-fi entertainment, which more times than not takes someone with his black bravado and charisma and delegates them to be a supporting character. He is denouncing the false narrative of post-racial peace that pervades the entertainment that takes place in Hollywood’s imagined worlds of deep space.

His statement in London that he doesn’t care if his protests for black lives results in him losing acting gigs and fans says a lot about the system in which he works. There are many who have posted on social media that they are behind him (including the main Star Wars social media accounts and a tweet from Jordan Peele that has been liked over a million times). But be mindful of the context that led Boyega to say he is aware that his audacity to be both angry and black could have consequences to his career. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick will likely never see an NFL football field ever again, for a much less animated protest of the same deadly violence. Boyega knows he could share a similar fate and shows no fear of it.

Before he took his words outdoors and got behind a bullhorn, Boyega made it known in a NSFW video stream to his social media followers that he has not, and never will be, a part of the Hollywood machine, and that regardless of his stature, he’ll always be a voice against racism. His heartbreak and anger were written on his face. In that post, he mentions never moving to Los Angeles. He proclaimed he’s London to the bone and an African man first and foremost (his parents are of Nigerian descent).

In Hyde Park, Boyega asked every black person protesting with him to remember the first time someone reminded them they were black. It was a reminder that so many have been forced to be mindful of their blackness when operating in a nonblack space, Hollywood or otherwise. But he won’t let such precaution define him.

As for his time as a fictional space hero, Boyega likely knew he wouldn’t be gripping that blue lightsaber for too long in the most recent Star Wars trilogy. We had already seen Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu, allowing producers to check off “Black Jedi” on the diversity list. Instead we were treated merely to Finn’s revelation of working in janitorial services during his time as a Stormtrooper.

But the waste of what Boyega could and should have been in Star Wars is irrelevant in the shadow of his activism. How he is using his real voice now is more important. A voice not written by someone else, but coming from his own mind and heart, as he used his high profile to let fellow black Londoners, and black people around the world, know he is with them in their fight for justice and the right to exist.

There’s no time to worry about potentially offending those who get nervous when a black man raises his voice. Boyega has always seen the pointlessness in holding on to the suitable-for-all persona that was crafted for him in the Star Wars galaxy. He’s never been timid in speaking his truths, whether it’s directed at the often impossible-to-satisfy geek fanbases or “The Last Jedi” director Rian Johnson. He sees his own people continuing to fall victim to a systemic disease on both sides of the pond and worldwide. And he knew silence wasn’t an option.

“Black lives have always mattered," Boyega screamed at the beginning of his speech. “We have always been important. We have always meant something. We have always succeeded.”

Star Wars doesn’t matter. Image doesn’t matter. Boyega surely knows that what does matter is a future when the senseless acts that he and much of the world are now protesting stop happening.

Using his voice for that is more heroic than anything he’ll ever do on the screen.

Read more:

‘Far Sector’ introduces DC’s newest Green Lantern in an Afro-futuristic murder mystery