The actor finds himself at the center of a debate that pits feminist fans of the sci-fi film series against those decrying cultural insensitivity.
Video of Star Wars star John Boyega grinding with a female dancer at a Caribbean celebration in London last weekend has ignited debate, with one side claiming the images are demeaning to female fans of the franchise, and the other dismissing those complaints as culturally insensitive at best, racist at worst.
The footage, which surfaced on Twitter on Wednesday, was taken at the annual Notting Hill Carnival and posted by Boyega himself to his own Instagram account. The event is Europe’s largest street festival, a parade and celebration honoring London’s Caribbean communities and traditions, held every late summer since 1964.
In the 11-second clip, Boyega, who plays the Stormtrooper-turned-rebel Finn in the film series, is dressed in a camouflage top with cut-off sleeves and shorts, a black bandanna tied around his neck. He grinds against a dancer in a string bikini and feather headdress; at one point, he places a hand across the woman’s exposed back and on her shoulder to steady himself.
The full-contact dancing has a name — “wining” (sometimes spelled “whining”) — as well as a rich tradition, having originated in the 18th-century “Jamette carnivals” of Trinidad and Tobago. “Jamette” comes from the French word “diametre,” which referred to the class of people below “the diameter of respectability” who attended them; “wining” got its name from the winding motion required of the hips while performing the dance.
But to some Star Wars fans — particularly feminist-identifying ones who find it hard to reconcile their love of the franchise with images like that of “Slave Leia” from Return of the Jedi — the video was nevertheless unsettling.
“It’s not funny. Can you imagine strong females like Padme, Leia or Rey in a similar situation? I can’t,” responded Twitter user BaymaxSix to Boyega, in a tweet that tagged both the official Star Wars account and that of its studio owner, Disney. Boyega replied directly to the critique, tweeting, “Yep! Rey would back it up!!!!! Wooooooiiiiiii!” He ended the tweet with four cry-laughing emojis.
Other Twitter users quickly rallied to Boyega’s defense, with the actor responding to several of them. “Don’t let me find John Boyega at carnival — I’ll be throwing all the booty on him!” wrote one woman. “Oooooo damn. I receive it!” Boyega replied, then retweeted an…