John Boyega: ‘Falcon and Winter Soldier’ Shows How to Elevate POC Characters, Not Sideline Them

Boyega says representation on screen is only as good as the moments given to minority characters.
John Boyega
John Boyega
Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP

John Boyega appeared on NPR’s “Fresh Air” this week and gave credit to Marvel Studios for elevating its Black characters. The “Star Wars” veteran and “Small Axe” Emmy contender pointed to “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” which gave Anthony Mackie’s character a ton of impactful moments that propped up the character’s visibility. For Boyega, giving minority characters standout moments is one of the only to ways to effectively boost representation on screen. It’s not enough to cast a Black actor, you have to give that actor’s character weight and importance through powerful moments.

“The characters are only as good as the moments that you give them,” Boyega said. “When we talk about, you know, Captain America and him kind of facing off against Thanos and his army, when you talk about these moments that are given to characters, it’s only because these moments are written by somebody. These moments are put in there on purpose to elevate characters.”

Boyega continued, “We’ve got people now watching ‘Falcon and the Winter Soldier,’ and a lot of people have been commenting about the elevation of Falcon’s character in the series and how they’ve really done well with bringing him up, which I also agree as well. You know, that’s because you give characters these special moments. But then what happens when, you know, some moments feels like you’re being bypassed and it kind of goes for years and years and things pile on?”

One of the biggest issues Boyega has expressed about his time playing Finn in the “Star Wars” universe is how the franchise cast minority actors such as himself and Kelly Marie Tran and then sidelined their characters from the main narrative. As Boyega told GQ in a viral September 2020 interview, “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. Daisy knows this. Adam knows this. Everybody knows. I’m not exposing anything.”

In the same GQ interview, Boyega advised Disney and other major studios not to “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.”

Boyega’s decision to speak out on this matter led to an “honest conversation” with Disney executives about sidelining characters of color. In his interview with NPR this week, Boyega elaborated on his decision to go public with his criticism of “Star Wars'” treatment of his character.

“I think I wanted to discuss the elephant in the room that is easily dismissed sometimes, easily seen as a selfish act, a way to put the attention on you,” Boyega said. “I wanted to discuss an issue that I discussed with actors on set, an issue that I had discussed with, you know, professional individuals, you know, execs, producers who I’d meet, whether at award shows or meetings, who were noticing the same things I’d noticed.”

Boyega continued, “I just wanted to say it out loud so that it wouldn’t be an awkward conversation to have, because I think, in general, what I realized after all of this is that, in general, I think human beings assume the worst. So as soon as you open up about something like that, people assume that you’re doing it for the worst reasons, doing it for yourself. But they forget that there’s a big process, and especially when it comes to studio films and characters.”

Head over to NPR’s website to listen to Boyega’s interview in its entirety.

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