John Boyega’s latest role in the movie Detroit adds a new layer to his already storied career of just a few years.
Boyega plays Melvin Dismukes, a black security guard mired in the middle of police murder and attempted cover up during the 1967 civilian uprisings in Detroit. Dismukes was a complicated character whose actions after the event led to many of his African-American counterparts at the time labeling him an Uncle Tom. Dismukes would eventually move to the suburbs after receiving countless death threats.
HipHopDX was able to sit down with Boyega to discuss his role and the state of race relations while he was in the Motor City for the premiere of the movie.
“It was complicated,” Boyega says about portraying Dismukes. “It’s a complex story and the Uncle Tom thing has its definition but for this situation, we’re given a perspective that questions that. If you wanna call him an Uncle Tom in this situation, put yourself in this situation – see if you would be the Spider-Man of the bunch or the hero. That’s something I had to open my mind to and approach. It’s not easy to always make the right decisions. It’s not easy to always be brave. I think, for the most part, he did what he could. Circumstance has a way of slapping us in the face sometimes. They did him wrong, man. They turned the tables and all of a sudden he was being charged with first-degree murder.”
Boyega also touched on the correlation between this story and the state of policing in American today. “It’s not clean yet, Boyega says. “Nothing has been done in terms of change. It’s a hard situation. You guys are going through a lot stateside. Not only here though. There’s a global conversation happening right now race relations, specifically with black people, in the UK, Brazil [and] all over the world. This is a story in the states that most people didn’t know about which is interesting [because] it connects the dots to other stories we didn’t know about. It’s a good message.”
The parallels of race relations between the U.S. and UK also something the London-born actor touches on. “Systematic racism, and classism as well, is something that is explored,” says Boyega. “But also the lines that separate us are not there. There’s a video footage that was released a few days ago of a young black man that was chased down by a police officer and he died a day later. They’re still doing investigations as to what happened but these are the stories that we’re hearing about. There are various black men that have died in the custody of the police and there was the London riots that happened a few years ago. So these are conversations that we are continuously having and there’s a level of empathy that we can relate to [in regards to African-Americans]. That’s why when there’s a Black Lives Matter rally in the states, you can see one in the states. You see one all over the world because we [can] relate. Unfortunately, after 50 years, we’re still having the same conversations.
“What I like about this story is that we’re not trying to paint a story that’s comfortable for you and the way you would like to see the world,” Boyega exclaims. “The story is not catered to the egos of the audience. It’s not about that. I’d love to go into the movie theater and have a black-centric movie that shows us in powerful and commanding roles [but] on the flip side of that I also like to see our real stories and the struggles of what we’ve been through. So we’re able to have these conversations and to build a knowledge as to how far we’ve come. I know I’m not African-American but we were taught, especially in the UK, that black history is not only American history but globally all around the world it interconnects. The systematic racism connects all the way back to slavery which began in Africa as we know. As an African, as a Nigerian, it’s a story I can just relate with. Reading a script like this, I just wanted to be a part of connecting the dots and I wanted to be a part of the buzz that sparks the conversation.”
Detroitis currently in theaters in theaters nationwide.