John Boyega, Carnival, Caribana, Cropover, Caribbean, Black Women

What’s Missing From The John Boyega Carnival “Debate”? Black Women’s Voices

Let Boyega be great. Last weekend was Notting Hill Carnival, London’s premiere festival celebrating Caribbean music, culture and costumes.  This type of festival is a global event, albeit named in different ways. For Toronto, it’s known as Caribana. For Barbados it’s known as Cropover (otherwise known as “the festival that Rihanna graces her presence at”).

John Boyega, of Star Wars fame, decided to partake in the celebrating. This would make sense, considering that London has a rich population of African and Caribbean citizens. He decided to share his celebration on IG Stories, particularly catching these wines. Most people *cough Black cough* were happy that the busy actor was enjoying himself, some even offering up a personal wine *cough ME cough*. But others found the expression unbecoming and not conducive to a child’s star. Sites like Daily Mail and TMZ reported that Boyega was dancing with a “scantily clad female.”

The “debate” came to a head when THR reported that his celebration “pits feminist fans of the sci-fi film series against those decrying cultural insensitivity”, including one tweet from a twitter user who said “It’s not funny. Can you imagine strong females like Padme, Leia or Rey in a similar situation? I can’t.”

With all this noise around this controversy (that isn’t a controversy), one group’s voice is glaringly missing from the pack: Black women. Both men and women wear these elaborate looks during Carnival, but it’s the women who shine the brightest and receive the most press. The phrase “scantily clad” sparks a negative connotation, one that isn’t new if you’re a living and breathing Black woman. How we express and show our bodies through dance, dress and movement has always been policed. This also rolls up to how we express our sexuality. Boyega was a consenting Black man dancing with a consenting Black woman, and both were enjoying themselves. What she was or wasn’t wearing isn’t relevant to this already irrelevant conversation.

Another problem in this “debate” is the notion that Rey, Padme, Leia are too “strong” to be throwing their asses in a circle. By using fictional characters as a mantle for white woman purity, you’re saying that if you’re not within those parameters, you don’t have standards. It’s no secret that Star Wars has had consistent white women leads. Black women’s voices in this franchise are already silent. To drive that point home using these fictional characters as the feminist icons who don’t have fun in *that* way makes it clear that you don’t approve of how Black women express themselves. Even the Twitter user, who described himself as a Spanish man, subscribed to that brand of white purity. There are no rules to being a feminist, outside of one: my body, my agency, my choices.  It’s either that your feminism is intersectional or its bullshit.

The biggest grievance is the fact that we still have non-Black reporters reporting on Black cultural events that they have no knowledge of. If you had knowledge of what Carnival Mas and Mas bands are, you would never type the phrase “scantily clad” in your piece. If you understood Black women’s brand of feminism, you would stop to wonder if there’s an overlap between “feminist fans” and those who are “decrying cultural insensitivity.”

A Black woman was dancing with Boyega. And while Boyega has done a great job defending himself, where is the defense and acknowledgement of the Black woman’s choice in these articles? It only takes one second to consider: “Would a Black woman write a better take?”

Joi is a Marketer, sometimey writer, sarcasm enthusiast and podcaster for Black Girls Nerds. You can also find her on Twitter (@jumpedforjoi) tweeting about random stuff.