NEW YORK – John Boyega is only 28, but being a professional actor of 10 years and a veteran of three “Star Wars” films has given him insight into what it’s like for a young performer breaking into Hollywood.
"I always tell young actors who are getting into it, they’ve got their first franchise or first big role: You’re gonna have to navigate people assuming that you’re a piece of (expletive),” says Boyega. “Normally the assumption is you keep quiet, you keep cashing checks and you keep it moving. That’s the hardest thing to navigate, when you don’t feel that way.”
This year, Boyega has made it clear he doesn't feel that way, that he isn’t going to bite his tongue. In July, he gave a fiery speech at a London protest in the wake of George Floyd’s death, shouting through a megaphone and fighting back tears. He wondered aloud whether he’d have a career afterward.
“Black lives have always mattered,” Boyega told demonstrators. “We have always been important. We have always meant something. We have always succeeded regardless. And now is the time. I ain’t waiting.”
In September, Boyega severed ties with the London cosmetics brand Jo Malone after the company reshot, with a different brand ambassador, a video he had made that touched on his childhood neighborhood and Nigerian heritage. He said on Twitter, “dismissively trading out one’s culture this way is not something I can condone.”
And in a GQ interview in September, Boyega criticized the makers of “Star Wars” for their uncertain handling of his character, Finn, and for giving “all the nuance” to characters played by Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley: “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. It’s not good. I’ll say it straight up.”
In a year riven with resistance, Boyega has seemed suited to the moment -- an unapologetically candid actor breaking free of PR-controlled Hollywood constraints. He won't, he says, "fashion my career to be like a politician” or “take the money and shush.”
“People need to go up there and reflect what’s real," says Boyega, speaking by video conference in an interview from London. "Sometimes you get angry, sometimes I’m wrong, sometimes I’m right. Be human, rather than having to get into a space where you’re successful but then you have to lose your identity. That’s whack. No one’s doing that, especially not my generation.”