John Boyega Says 'Detroit' Ignited Passion To Fight Systemic Racism

“Even stateside and around the world people still think systemic racism is a mystery and it’s not.” 

Tanya A. Christian Aug, 04, 2017

John Boyega is one of Hollywood’s fastest rising stars. In 2015 he emerged on the U.S. acting scene as Finn in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Now, with a leading role in Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit, he’s showing audiences why they should pay attention to the young Brit from Peckham, London.

In the movie, out August 4, Boyega plays Melvin Dismukes, a security guard hired to protect a store in the midst of the uprising in Detroit. For the 25-year-old actor, his involvement in the film became a crash course in American history.

“I found out about Black Wall Street and I found out about Detroit 67 but I didn’t know about the Algiers Motel situation. I didn’t know about that particular event,” Boyega told ESSENCE. “And that crash course was shocking to me.”

In addition to learning about the events that sparked Bigelow to produce the crime drama, Boyega credits the film with forcing him to think about what part he’ll play in ensuring the catalyst for the unrest doesn’t persist.

“Even stateside and around the world people still think systemic racism is a mystery and it’s not. And there is a Black experience and Detroit explores that. And for me there is a part that we all play and it takes a while to kind of figure out and I’m figuring it out now, and I don’t know. But the experience on Detroit has helped kind of ignite that inside of me to know what my position is in all of this. Because it’s a necessary fight and it’s one that we all are apart of.”

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In our August issue, you're in our scene page with a few other Black actors from the UK. We have dubbed you the Black Brit Brotherhood. [LAUGH] What's that? So it's like the Ratpack but But the [UNKNOWN] pack. [LAUGH] Nice. What is it like having that group of friends? We have [UNKNOWN] and Bashy and David, I can never get his last name right, [CROSSTALK]. Yes, what is it like being a part of that group? Do you guys inspire each other, encourage We forgot Malachi Kirby, you forgot Latisha Wright who's in Black Panther. We all grew up together. Okay. We all grew up within the same kind of institutions. The first time I met Danai Gurira I went to go see a play called Sucker Punch. I met Malachi and Latisha in drama school. I met Damson Idris in drama school, we have the same agent. So we're all kind of just We all kind of had this dream together and were just all kind of seeing each other in different franchise films and just going, yeah. [LAUGH] Do you feel like that encourages you, like having that group encourages you to be a better actor? Yes, yeah. Do you guys ever run scenes together? No, no, we don't do that. We don't do that. You don't go that far. We don't do that, but But we do definitely have a forum in which we discuss and pray and it's a nice close knit crew. It's cool. Nice, and obviously you're not from America.. No, I'm not. What was it like getting a crash course in this history lesson of Detroit? Yeah, and that's a great way of articulating it. Because black history, obviously, you know it's a global history and there's a lot to learn from stateside, all the way back to Africa. But for this, I knew about the Detroit '67 uprising I watched a documentary called Hidden Colors. When I watched Hidden Colors in LA I was staying with this family in Inglewood and they were worked. [INAUDIBLE] [LAUGH] All this stuff while rubbing [INAUDIBLE] on my kneecaps [LAUGH]. [LAUGH] And I was just intrigued about interesting stories and I found out about black Wall Street and I found out about Detroit. But I didn't know about the Algiers hotel situation, I didn't know about that particular even, and that crash course was shocking to me. What was the most interesting thing you've learned? The most interesting thing that I've learned was the fact that Even stake sides and run the [UNKNOWN], people will still think, systematic race is a mystery, and it's not. Right. And there is a black experience, and a [UNKNOWN] explores that. And for me, there is a part that we all play and it takes a while to kinda figure out and I'm through now and I don't know. But the experience in Detroit has helped kind of ignite that inside me to know as to how, what my position is in all of this because it's a necessary fight and it's one that we all are a part of. [MUSIC]