By Josh Reilly B.
The realities of being black in the United States have populated news and social media over the last several weeks with the tragic murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. During a Black Lives Matter protest in London, John Boyega made headlines with an emotional, rousing speech about systemic, institutionalized racism, accountability for authorities, and the importance of treating others with basic dignity and respect. Boyega’s incredible, relevant words and role in the push for change following the unnecessary violence against Black people that is all too prevalent in the United States today gets one thinking about the important Finn is – not as a character in a movie necessarily, but as a symbol of change and representation in the form of a well developed, interesting, and empathic character.
From the second Finn’s head popped into frame in the first shot of The Force Awakens’ teaser trailer, John Boyega’s role in the film sparked racist, misguided remarks and sentiments, with many labeling it as overly “politically correct casting”. Assigning such labels to Boyega’s casting and Finn as a character were not only demeaning, but completely off the mark. A push for basic representation by different racial groups had been going on for decades in Hollywood, but Boyega’s role as Finn was a hallmark moment for racial representation.
It would be easy to watch The Force Awakens and dismiss the importance of Finn as a Black lead in Star Wars, viewing Boyega’s character as just another character. But that perspective would be reductive. Boyega, a Black man, co-led a movie that made $2.07 billion, the highest grossing domestic film of all time. Finn, a Stormtrooper who does the right thing and leaves the First Order, represents the audience’s perspective. A Black man represents the audience’s perspective. The level of empathy this facilitates is incredible and was a huge step forward in modern movie making. The audience is plummeted into the perspective of Finn, a courageous, vulnerable, genuinely kind man. And, importantly, a selfless character. Finn’s sole motivation after meeting Rey in The Force Awakens until the Battle of Crait in The Last Jedi and even beyond is to make sure Rey is alright. Finn’s motivations are not grounded in some hope for an external gain, but, rather, are truly altruistic – a good man doing the right thing in making sure this person, a woman he just met but deeply cares about, is safe from the horrors of the galaxy surrounding them. This is significant in not only having a character who we think is cool or has some great moments, but who is truly a good person – a role model for people to look up to. And the fact that this role model happens to be black is a truly important milestone for Star Wars, movie making, and broader culture. In the world’s biggest and most influential franchise, Black people had a leading character that looked like them and finally saw themselves represented on screen in a substantial way, something White people have been able to do in Star Wars dating back all the way to 1977.
Boyega’s role in the forefront of the protests highlights that his ideals are inspirational both off screen and on screen. Finn is, in large part, the energy and the fun that infuses the sequel trilogy. But, Finn is also a vitally important character for Star Wars. A Black, Force sensitive, empathic and courageous character that anyone of any demographic can look up to is important and something that should not be overlooked, especially in the modern age. Finn’s influence and impact transcend Star Wars into our real lives, as evidenced by the parallels between Finn and Boyega and racism in the world today. In the words of Finn, when faced with uncertainty or distress or injustice, we could all do with letting the quote “because it’s the right thing to do” dictate our actions.
To be silent is to be complicit. Please consider signing these petitions and donate to these causes if you’re in a position to do so:
May the Force be with you, always
Pictures courtesy of Lucasfilm and CNN