'Star Wars' Star John Boyega Defends Carnival Grinding: "Rey Would Back It Up"

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 the 25-year-old actor 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, who was born in London to Nigerian parents, 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 animated gif of a woman's bouncing buttocks. 

BaymaxSix, meanwhile, was told by one woman, "Stop trying to shame people about sex." Another wrote, "If you can't distinguish the difference between fictional WHITE WOMEN and the cultural traditions of WOC [women of color] you need to stop talking." Those sentiments were echoed in dozens of other tweets.

Nevertheless, BaymaxSix stands by his assessment. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter on condition of anonymity, the 50-year-old Spanish man, who has been a lifelong fan of Star Wars since he saw the original at age 11, says he was not happy with Boyega's response.

"John is free to have fun any way he wants," he says. "But he is a public character, and in my opinion should take care of what he puts in his social networks. I think he has to preserve the legacy of the most important film saga ever. When I saw the images, I thought of the millions of children that follow John and how they would interpret those images."

Likely to sympathize with that point of view is Disney and the Star Wars gatekeepers themselves, led by Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, all of whom maintain the multibillion-dollar brand's identity with a famously iron fist.

Part of that means ensuring it remains family-friendly — particularly as Disney readies two 14-acre Star Wars-themed areas at each of its North American theme parks, both tentatively scheduled to open in 2019.

Optics aside, however, for many in the Star Wars fan community, the images remain much ado about nothing. "Boyega's a confident, sexy man who was out there dancing with a willing participant," says Star Wars fan and writer Shana O'Neil. "And he's also a human being. Which I think is really important."

Reps for Boyega and Lucasfilm did not respond to a request for comment.