Lucasfilm Expresses Solidarity With John Boyega in Wake of Black Lives Matter Protest Speech

John Boyega raises a fist of solidarity alongside protesters outside Parliament Square in London, England.
John Boyega raises a fist of solidarity alongside protesters outside Parliament Square in London, England.
Image: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP (Getty Images)

The killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin last week has sparked anti-racism and anti-police brutality protests across both the United States and internationally. In London yesterday, Star Wars actor John Boyega took part in demonstrations throughout the capital, delivering a stirring speech that Lucasfilm has now publicly expressed support for.

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“Black lives have always mattered. We have always been important, we have always meant something, we have always succeeded regardless,” Boyega opened, addressing gathered protesters at Hyde Park in London, England, yesterday afternoon.

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“Today is about innocent people who were halfway through their process,” the actor continued. “We don’t know what George Floyd could have achieved. We don’t know what Sandra Bland could have achieved. But today, we’re gonna make sure that that won’t be an alien thought to our loved ones...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.”

You can watch the full speech below.

After Boyega’s words made waves online, in an unprecedented move, Lucasfilm made a public statement clearly supporting Boyega’s comments, linking to his speech in full alongside a message of solidarity.

“The evil that is racism must stop,” the message read in part, and was later also posted to the official Star Wars website. “We will commit to being part of the change that is long overdue in the world.”

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Boyega prefaced much of what he said in Hyde Park expressing a fear that his frank words would cost him future opportunities in Hollywood as an actor, before equally frankly declaring “Fuck that,” and carrying on. But as his speech went viral across social media yesterday, directors and other creatives took the time to publicly declare they would help to ensure that Boyega would not lose out on projects for the act of speaking out against racial injustice.

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Beyond amplifying Boyega’s speech and its statement of commitment, however, Lucasfilm specifically has yet to announce any financial commitments in support of black causes that Boyega spoke about while protesting in London yesterday, or plans to diversify the creatives behind or in front of the camera on future projects.

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It also marks the first time that Lucasfilm has publicly spoken out in support of Boyega in such a manner after the actor has weathered repeated incidents of targeted racism and harassment from Star Wars fans since he was first cast as Finn in The Force Awakens. The company likewise stayed quiet when racist fans also targeted actress Kelly Marie Tran for her role in The Last Jedi as Rose Tico, a role that went on to be heavily diminished in The Rise of Skywalker.

Its social media post sharing Boyega’s speech on the official Star Wars Twitter account was the first since it posted the same statement shared across multiple Disney-affiliated social media accounts Sunday evening, pledging support to black colleagues and the black community. Lucasfilm’s parent company, the Walt Disney Company, followed up a day later with announcement pledging $5 million “to support nonprofit organizations that advance social justice,” $2 million of which is going to the NAACP.

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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, starring John Boyega, has grossed $1.074 billion internationally since its premiere in December 2019.

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Looking for ways to advocate for black lives? Check out this list of resources by our sister site Lifehacker for ways to get involved.


For more, make sure you’re following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.

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James is a News Editor at io9. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!

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DISCUSSION

fortheloveoffudge
¿Donde está la biblioteca?

I’ve had to laugh - seriously laugh - at some of my fellow white people’s responses to Boyega’s speech in the past 24 hours. Look, kids, we know he’s English. We know. He’s one of the finest actors to come out of the United Kingdom in the past 30 years and I dearly hope he’ll be showcasing what he can do for many years to come. But here’s the thing: understand where he’s from.

(Caution, this is a seriously long read.  I’ve hopefully trimmed out most of the horrific things so hopefully it’s not too triggering)

If you didn’t know this, Boyega was born in London and raised in the Peckham district of the city. Peckham’s one of those places in London that is a complete contradiction to what foreigners, well, Americans think London is like. Yeah, the red double-deckers go through there and it’s unusual that it has never been served by the Tube. It’s also one of the most ethnically diverse areas of the city with just over half of the population listed as being African, Caribbean or Black. It’s also one of the poorer districts in London, and it has a history of social upheaval - it was one of the focal points of the riots in 2011. (What’s that, you didn’t know about those? Oh yeah, we had some pretty intense riots across England in 2011, starting off with the murder of Mark Duggan and ended with riots happening in several major towns and cities in England. Only 5 people died during those riots. Seriously, look it up.) Anyway.

What I’m saying here is that Boyega grew up seeing how black people were treated. He would have been around eight when Damilola Taylor was murdered. The death of Damilola Taylor was a fucking shocking event in modern British history and it’s one of the most high-profile murder investigations in British legal history. The reason? Taylor was ten when he was murdered. Boyega - and other black kids like him - would have learned about the conflicting conclusions as to the cause of Taylor’s death. Was it a stabbing? Did he fall and fatally injure himself on a broken bottle? The fact was that Boyega would have seen a peculiar reaction to the boy’s death: that despite the “evidence” supporting an accidental death in 2002, the Police kept the case open for investigation. It’s a good thing they did, because in 2006 (I know, six years later...) two young men were convicted of killing Taylor based on further investigation and analysis of the evidence. Well, you’re thinking, well that’s good. Justice was served.

Want to know why the Police really kept that case open?

You have to go back further in British legal history for this one and to one of the most shameful crimes ever committed in the UK: Stephen Lawrence. This - this - case really exposed institutional racism in several UK institutions (that still hasn’t gone away as much as people would hope) and it still resonates in the legal profession to this day.

Stephen Lawrence was murdered on the 22nd of April, 1993. His crime? None. He was murdered whilst waiting for a bus, for fuck’s sake. The killers? Five white men. Now, racially-motivated murders are not uncommon in the UK, believe me. What was extraordinary about the Lawrence case was that the five murderers were originally charged and tried by the Crown Prosecution Service, but the charges were later dropped. The CPS cited insufficient evidence. It was during the initial investigation that it was suggested that Lawrence had been murdered because he was black (that bit’s important, remember it).

An inquest into Lawrence’s death was held in February, 1997. It was at the conclusion of this inquest (and I apologise, I’m distilling a shitting tonne of legal history here, kids. Read up on the events leading up to 1997. They’re brutal reading, but I’d say it’s essential reading) that inquest jury returned a finding stating that the murder had indeed been racially motivated. This finding unfortunately had to be dismissed as it went beyond the boundaries of their limitations. What happened next was extraordinary. The results of the inquest were released on the 13th of February...and then on the 14th of February, the Daily Mail - yes, the Daily Fucking Mail, the rag that cheerleaded fascism in the 1930s and is considered to be a conservative sewer - had this to say:

It was extraordinary for several reasons. One - the Mail wasn’t exactly known for it’s pro-black stance. Two - it opened the door for any one of the five men in that article to sue them for defamation. What the Mail was doing was throwing down the gauntlet to these five and saying “Prove you’re innocent. If you’re innocent, you can get us for libel”. Not one of those men raised a case against the Mail and public opinion shunted even further in favour of the Lawrence family (it was already pretty much in favour, especially when it became known that Stephen had been killed by a gang of five white men. People might be stupid, but come on - a single, black teenager against five white men?). The Government, under the Home Secretary, ordered a new enquiry in July 1997. Unlike the initial prosecution, unlike the private prosecution sought by the Lawrence family and the subsequent inquest, this Inquiry had real teeth behind it. The resulting report was known as the Macpherson Report and it was fucking damning. It caused a cascade reaction in English law (England and Scotland, BTW, have separate legal bodies. English law covers England and Wales. There’s also a Northern Irish legal system) that removed key obstacles to obtaining a retrial, namely that of Double Jeopardy (well, partial revokation of that law). Did they go to jail?

This is where I think a lot of Boyega’s, indeed, a lot of Black people’s anger towards the Metropolitan Police comes from.

The answer is “Not all of them.”

You see, Lawrence was a watershed moment in British legal history because it pointed a very large torch at the Police and said “What the fuck have you been doing?” The investigations into corruption within the Metropolitan Police were long and fucking horrific. Investigations into corruption, bribery, intimidation, smears against the Lawrence family. As a result, from the outside looking in you’d think that the Police learned it’s lesson and race relations are better now. No, no they’re not. They’re not better - they’re just not so easily fucking hidden now and a lot of Black youth in particular have a mixture of fear and loathing about the Police. Don’t forget - London’s Black community have had a long and painful history with the Police, going all the way back to Windrush (that’s the name given to the arrival of Caribbean immigrants to the UK in the 1950s, btw) even though it is a fact that Black people have been in the UK for centuries. One of the most ridiculous claims I’ve ever read (twas in a Buzzfeed comment section, so figure that one out!) was that “Oh, you don’t need to worry about being stopped and searched anymore!” Oh really? The Police - anywhere in the UK - can stop and search you at any time they want. That never went away. Police corruption is still a massive issue to this day. Hell, I’ve experienced it. I know, me, a lily-white gay man!

Boyega is giving a voice to a generation that has now stood up and said “You know what? Go fuck yourselves. We demand to be heard and listened to.” And I’m going to say this: it’s about fucking time someone realised that the Black youth of my country haven’t got it any easier than their contemporaries in the States. Well, apart from the fact that the Police don’t carry guns (so that’s a small, tender mercy...) but don’t kid yourselves: people still die in Police custody over here. Just an FYI.

In summary, I’ll say this: in my line of work I get to encounter people of multiple backgrounds and ethnicities and I try my fucking hardest, being the grandchild of immigrants myself, to recognise that not everyone is like me, that some people have it worse off not because they’re “lazy” or “unambitious”, but because of the colour of their skin. And I usually encounter someone as angry as John Boyega maybe once a week or so and you know what? It’s my job to shut the fuck up and to listen and to work out solutions to help them.

We should all be doing that. Shutting up. Sitting back. Holding our hands out to say “tell me what we’ve done wrong, and let’s see if we can work together to find a solution so this doesn’t happen again”. What Black people, or should I say PoC, need right now is for us lot, the white contingent, to support them and to recognise that there are those amongst us who have royally fucking screwed the fucking pooch. We should be letting them speak out and take the lead and not minimise their voices, not dilute their experiences with some ridiculous anecdote about that time my yoga teacher - who is, like, totally black - did this thing. No, shut up. Read, listen, watch. Learn. It’s literally all we can do at this point, apart from standing shoulder-to-shoulder with others and saying “No more”. You in the States can’t afford this. We in the UK can’t afford this. No country can afford to have a seismic outpouring of grief and anger like this. But you don’t fucking solve it with guns or tear gas or rubber fucking bullets. You solve it by listening and willingness to change (and if you’re not willing to change? Look at what happened to the fucking dinosaurs).

In short: Boyega is right. And I will echo something I said earlier: I’m going to support him in every fucking future venture he does, be it acting or activism. Why? Because it’s the right fucking thing to do.