You should know, he’s a big deal in the resistance. John Boyega, who broke onto the scene in Attack the Block and became a global celebrity as Finn in Star Wars, delivered an emotional speech at a Black Lives Matter rally in his native London. Since the conversation about racial injustice in policing kicked off about ten days ago, Boyega has been vocal on his social media platforms condemning racism. Whenever any misguided Star Wars fan tried to chime in suggesting that by highlighting the specific injustices directed at black and brown folks he was himself being “racist,” Boyega appropriately slapped them down in his replies.
Thousands of Britons gathered in Hyde Park, a traditional protest space in London, to add to the chorus of voices protesting internationally. Many in the comic book industry have already spoken up in support of the civic action taking place. However, during his speech, Boyega voiced his fears that by speaking out he was placing his young career in jeopardy. However, a few hours later, official Lucasfilm social media accounts shared the speech, calling the young actor their “hero.” Also, other filmmakers across social media stated their desire to want to work with him.
Along with mentioning the tragic loss of black life in America, Boyega highlighted cases closer to home. Unlike in America, however, the London police kept a respectful distance from the protesters creating a sharp contrast to the harsh, cruel tactics they’ve used against peaceful protesters in the U.S.
What John Boyega Said In His Emotional Black Lives Matter Speech
You can watch the full speech in the video above. During his speech, Boyega broke into tears, and he strained his voice shouting into a bullhorn. He urged that protest remain peaceful, saying that the urge to violence is a “trap” laid by the powers-that-be who want to silence their voice. Boyega pleaded with the crowd to care for each other, to start families that are “raised in love,” because that is the only way to ensure the next generation becomes “better human beings.”
“Today is about innocent people…. 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 that won’t be an alien thought to our young ones. I’m sure you all came today, you left your kids, and when you see your kids, they’re aimlessly playing. They don’t understand what’s going on. Today’s the day that we remind them that we are dedicated, and this is a lifelong dedication…. We don’t leave here and stop. This is longevity. Some of you are artists. Some of you are bankers. Some of you are lawyers. Some of you own shop stores, you are important. Your individual power, your individual right is very, very important. We can all join together to make this a better world. We can all do it together to make this special. We can all join together.”
Throughout the speech, Boyega would pause, seemingly breaking down. The women standing next to him cheered him on, telling him “John, you got this.”
A Message to Star Wars Fans About Boyega’s Message
Just listening to John Boyega speak, it’s clear that no movie series or role he played inspired his words. However, if you are a Star Wars fan, it’s important to recognize that the spirit of his message is at play in that franchise you love. In fact, the story of Boyega’s character Finn is about how a person trapped in an oppressive system broke free from it and became radicalized to fight for the freedom for all.
In the video above, Lucas talks to James Cameron about how the Vietnam war inspired Star Wars. The fact that a rag-tag group of rebels, so-called “primitive” indigenous creatures, and everyday folks could defeat the technologically superior Empire is a direct reflection of that. The prequel trilogy was all about how “good” systems can be corrupted, and even heroes like those in the Jedi Order can’t recognize it from their places of power. And while JJ Abrams and Rian Johnson didn’t do any better, at least the former had two black characters save the day. In The Rise of Skywalker Finn and Naomi Ackie’s Jannah risk their lives to fire the shot that permanently grounds the Sith Fleet.
In the interest of full disclosure, some disagree with this. Writing for Polygon, Robert Daniels points out how the Star Wars franchise failed to fully embrace the aspect of the black revolutionary. Daniels feels that Finn’s character was unfairly sidelined. He also said that the lack of focus on black experience in the galaxy far, far away spoke did a disservice to this history of black revolutionaries and rebels. He also said that Rose Tico’s message to him in The Last Jedi downplays justified anger when she says, “…We’re gonna win…not fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.”
“When viewed through the lens of Black Lives Matter, Rose’s statement is an unrealistic wish we hear often from white voices. It’s seeing both sides. Rose gives Finn this message because she doesn’t see him as a Black man. If she did, she wouldn’t filter his anger toward the oppressively white First Order. She wouldn’t treat him as a part of the whole, confining him to the proto-wisdom of Lucas’ previous trilogies. If the new Star Wars universe had reached to represent resistance in the modern age, it wouldn’t have left it to Boyega to bravely tweet, ‘The oppressor doesn’t give you time to talk about self-love before they shoot you.’”
Image via screengrab
It’s unclear why racial undertones are so absent from the Star Wars trilogy. (Though, Lucas’s much-maligned but actually quite good Red Tails about the Tuskegee Airmen shows he’s at least aware of such things.) It’s possible that in his effort to make a new myth easily relatable to anyone, he left the fear of the “other” to how the series treats space-aliens. It’s possible he thought it wasn’t his story to tell. However, what is clear is that Star Wars is all about anti-authoritarianism and the need for violent resistance, sometimes. Yet, John Boyega called for the opposite of violence during his Black Lives Matter speech. He called on people to fight for justice, and to do some from a place of love.
The outpouring of support Boyega’s real-world remarks received hearkens back to a central part of his final Star Wars film. The enemy wants you to think that you are alone. But “there are more of us.” We just have to show up, just like John Boyega did.
Featured image via Lucasfilm
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.