Actor John Boyega faced tremendous racism over his portrayal of a treasonous Stormtrooper in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." Two years and millions of new fans later, the Nigerian-British Boyega insists upon the the need for on-screen representation of marginalized groups in his new GQ magazine cover story—the second in a row, after "Moonlight" star Mahershala Ali’s last month, to feature a Black actor.
"I ain’t paying money to always see one type of person on-screen," he says to GQ. "Because you see different people from different backgrounds, different cultures, every day. Even if you’re a racist, you have to live with that. We can ruffle up some feathers."
Boyega, whose cover story was posted on GQ.com yesterday (July 17), spends most of the interview talking about his ascent to global superstardom via his lead role in the "Star Wars" film. The actor does, however, discuss racism as it pertains to other fantasy and sci-fi franchises:
"There are no Black people on ‘Game of Thrones,’ Boyega says. (To be fair, there are, like, three.) "You don’t see one Black person in ‘Lord of the Rings.’ (That is true.) And though ‘Star Wars‘ had featured a few Black characters—Billy Dee Williams as a smuggler, Samuel L. Jackson as a peripheral Jedi—they were less represented in the galaxy than Ewoks.
The actor appears next in "Detroit," a historical drama film directed by Kathryn Bigelow ("The Hurt Locker") that premieres August 4. The film depicts the "Algiers Motel incident" during the 1967 Detroit unrest, when officers from the Detroit Police Department, Michigan State Police and Michigan Army National Guard stormed and fired on a motel room occupied by 10 Black men and two White women, all unarmed. Three Black men were killed while the nine other occupants endured brutal beatings, all courtesy of the militarized police. Boyega portrays Melvin Dismukes, a real life private security guard caught up in the siege who was acquitted of assaulting two of the occupants. He says that the film left its mark on him, and that the themes still resonate in today’s racial justice climate:
After watching the movie, Boyega told Bigelow, "Yeah, I’d probably only be able to watch this every ten years." Not just because it’s painful to watch. (And it is deeply painful to watch.) But because, as he says, "being Black, going through what we’ve been through…the past is still hanging over our heads."
Read the full story at GQ.com, and check out photos from the cover shoot below: