This year has been absolutely maddening for John Boyega.
“I never knew the plot twist could be so mad. I feel like God just maybe went to the toilet for a bit too long and left this whole thing on shuffle. And I know we’re just going through random now,” he joked, before shifting to a more serious tone. “It feels a lot.”
He ain’t lying. This year has been unprecedented on so many levels. Black Lives Matter protests expanded to new global heights, an urgent call to end police brutality in Nigeria rang loudly across the African diaspora and millions of people were afflicted by the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
While the devil has been working hard, it’s no doubt that the British-Nigerian actor has been aiming to outwork him in more ways than one. Boyega refuses to sit idly by and has been using his platform for good, especially while the communities that look like him are suffering the most. In June, shortly after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, the 28-year-old star took to the streets with Black Lives Matter protesters in London’s Hyde Park. He told HuffPost that the decision to go protest was a last-minute one, and he for sure didn’t plan on making a speech.
“We went in the Uber; we went out to protest for three hours. And we’re waiting for Belly Mujinga’s family, and then the megaphone was turned to me,” Boyega said, referring to the Black British railway employee who died from COVID-19 after being spat on at work. “They were like, I would love for you to speak while we wait for it. I said, OK, I’ll speak, then it happened. And in that sense, it ignites other things.”
Boyega gave a tearful, impassioned demand for the world to see the humanity of Black folks.
“Look, I don’t know if I’m going to have a career after this, but f**k that,” he shouted in the middle of a sea of demonstrators. “Today is about innocent people who were halfway through that process. 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.”
His impromptu speech went viral. It was a pivotal moment for Boyega; for so many Black celebrities, speaking out does indeed come with a risk.
“I’m a Black man who cares about his people, to be honest, and I think with a world where you can be in this position and speak up for something, and an initial reaction is not going to be always positive,” he told HuffPost. “It’s going to be sometimes, are you really about it or not? It’s just that simple.”
He’s making sure his career aligns with his beliefs, too. In his most recent role, Boyega stars in Steve McQueen’s “Red, White and Blue” as Leroy Logan, a Black man who is motivated to make a career pivot and join the Metropolitan Police after his father was brutalized by cops. Logan’s hope is to change the police force from within, but he finds himself stuck between a racist system and a community that loses trust in him. “Red, White and Blue,” which is based on a true story, streams Friday. It is a part of McQueen’s “Small Axe” anthology film series, which premiered on Amazon Prime Nov. 20.
In a year like 2020, Boyega understands that folks are tired of seeing Black cop films. But he told HuffPost he found Logan’s story to be an important one full of nuance and conflict.
“I was playing a guy who decided to go into the system in order to change it, who felt like the sufferings of his community, one of the main causes was the fact that there was a lack of representation,” Boyega said. “The position that he was trying to feel would give way for several different safety precautions for people from our community to relate to the police in a better way. And that’s something that I champion. But the challenge of it is where the exploring got very, very interesting. And I was happy to play somebody that was navigating that type of space.”
Recently, fans have watched as his career moves have become more and more aligned with his politics. In September, Boyega criticized Disney for using his character and other characters of color in 2017’s “The Last Jedi” as sidekicks. That same month, he resigned from his role as Jo Malone global brand ambassador after the brand cut him out of a commercial concept he conceived.
“When I speak out, I’ve already taken action. That’s how I go. If I’m speaking out about something, I’ve already done what I can to be part of what changes it, unless morally, behind closed doors, to be fair, I don’t feel like I’d be qualified,” he said. “And then navigating this while speaking up, and while aligning my career is something that, I’m grateful to say, I couldn’t plan it. I know when you get money, things are good, but it doesn’t stop you from caring for your people, because it just can’t. It doesn’t have that much power.”
One of the latest causes Boyega is speaking out about is the ongoing police brutality against Nigeria residents. #ENDSARS, a movement nearly five years old, gained global attention this year as Nigeria’s youth began protesting a notorious police unit that thrives off of corruption and violence. Boyega doesn’t think the link between what Black folks are fighting for in the U.S., the U.K. and Nigeria is coincidental.
“We’re seeing Black bodies being discriminated against this year in a way that’s traumatizing. It’s mad. I was talking about the SARS footage with my team, and I was saying, what hit me so hard is that hearing the Yoruba — Yoruba’s a language that my mum speaks to me at home — hearing Mandarin, English-speaking, the Pidgin English, hearing them reacting, those are all sounds and tones I grew up with,” he said.
“So for me to then hear that same language, see the trauma, see people that you would probably meet dying in such a way, I almost ask, how do people stay quiet? That’s mad. How do you stay quiet? To speak, it’s natural. You have to speak.”