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John Boyega talks viral protest speech and ‘Star Wars’ racism with ‘GQ’

“I’m the only cast member who had their own unique experience of that franchise based on their race,” the actor said.

John Boyega Getty Images for Disney

Though John Boyega is known for his roles in Attack the Block, Detroit and the Star Wars sequel trilogy, the British-Nigerian actor made headlines earlier this year after delivering an impromptu and impassioned speech at a Black Lives Matter protest in London.

“I’m speaking to you from my heart. Look, I don’t know if I’m going to have a career after this, but fu*k that,” he told the crowd in a now-viral video. “Today is about innocent people who were halfway through their process. We don’t know what George Floyd could have achieved; we don’t know what Sandra Bland could have achieved, but today we’re going to make sure that won’t be an alien thought to our young ones.”

“This is so vital,” he added, fighting back tears. “I need you guys to understand how painful this sh*t is.”

Speaking with British GQ as the magazine's October cover star, Boyega said it was necessary for him to break the wall of “professionalism” and deliver the speech from his heart.

“I feel like — especially as celebrities — we have to talk through this filter of professionalism and emotional intelligence,” he told the outlet. “Sometimes you just need to be mad. You need to lay down what it is that’s on your mind. Sometimes you don’t have enough time to play the game.”

His vulnerability, he said, came from seeing other Black men’s emotions during the protest.

“That just made me cry,” he explained. “Because you don’t get to see that.”

Boyega also spoke candidly about his experience filming and promoting the final trilogy of Star Wars’ Skywalker Saga, which began when he was cast as Finn in 2015’s The Force Awakens.

“You get yourself involved in projects and you’re not necessarily going to like everything. [But] what I would say to Disney is do not bring out a Black character, market them to be much more important in the franchise than they are and then have them pushed to the side,” he told GQ. “It’s not good. I’ll say it straight up.”

Boyega explained that while Disney “knew what to do” with The Rise of Skywalker’s white characters like Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley, he felt the franchise sidelined Kelly Marie Tran, himself and other non-white actors.

“You knew what to do with these other people, but when it came to Kelly Marie Tran — when it came to John Boyega — you know fu*k all,” he shared. “What they want you to say is, ‘I enjoyed being a part of it. It was a great experience...’ Nah, nah, nah. I’ll take that deal when it’s a great experience. They gave all the nuance to Adam Driver, all the nuance to Daisy Ridley. Let’s be honest.”

Boyega also referenced the failed boycott of his first Star Wars movie — which was led by racist Twitter trolls in response to his casting — as part of the “unique experience” he had in the franchise because of his race.

“I’m the only cast member who had their own unique experience of that franchise based on their race,” he explained. “Let’s just leave it like that. It makes you angry with a process like that. It makes you much more militant; it changes you. Because you realise, ‘I got given this opportunity but I’m in an industry that wasn’t even ready for me.’”

“Nobody else in the cast had people saying they were going to boycott the movie because [they were in it]. Nobody else had the uproar and death threats sent to their Instagram DMs and social media, saying, ‘Black this and Black that and you shouldn’t be a Stormtrooper.’ Nobody else had that experience. But yet people are surprised that I’m this way. That’s my frustration.”

Born to Nigerian parents in London, Boyega recalled instances of racist attacks and police harassment — along with his Star Wars experiences — as moments that led up to his viral Black Lives Matter speech. Revisit the powerful clip from that protest below and read his full profile here.

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