Oscar Winner Matthew A. Cherry on Importance of Backing Black Stars Who Speak Out

"As Black creatives, you want to work, … but when you want to speak your mind, there's always, 'Am I going to get blackballed?'" says the filmmaker of John Boyega, Keke Palmer, Gabrielle Union and others. "We shouldn't have to fear consequences."
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images; VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images
John Boyega attends London's Black Lives Matter rally. (Inset: Matthew A. Cherry)

Thousands of Black Lives Matter supporters were gathered in London’s Hyde Park on June 3 as Star Wars actor John Boyega grabbed a megaphone to deliver an impassioned speech against racism and police brutality. It was his words about facing a potential backlash in Hollywood — “I don’t know if I’m going to have a career after this, but fuck that" — that led Oscar-winning filmmaker Matthew Cherry to stand up for the 28-year-old star. 

“I would work with John Boyega and I urge other non-black creators to affirm that they have his back as well,” tweeted Cherry to his 243,000 followers. The response was overwhelming to say the least, with confirmations from Lin-Manuel Miranda, Paul Feig, Elizabeth Banks, Edgar Wright, Cathy Yan, Olivia Wilde, Duncan Jones, Seth Grahame-Smith, Rob Delaney, Nina Jacobson, casting director Mike Page, Bill Lawrence, Chris Miller, Zack Bornstein, Jack Thorne, Charlie Brooker, Rodney Rothman, and Dan Hernandez and countless others, following separate nods from Jordan Peele, J.J. Abrams and Victoria Mahoney.

During a phone interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Cherry says it is a line his peers are forced to walk. “As black creatives, you want to work, you want to continue to use your instrument to make the world a better place and put out great depictions of people that look like you, but a lot of times when you want to speak your mind, there’s always a question: ‘Am I going to get blackballed for this?’ John just saying it plainly, for me, I wanted people to speak up and say they got his back.”

The Hair Love filmmaker then proposed the same for Keke Palmer and Gabrielle Union, and later Monique. Palmer engaged with National Guard soldiers in L.A., asking them to “march with us,” while Union filed a complaint with NBC, alleging racist behavior and a toxic culture on the set of America’s Got Talent. “It can’t just be for black men, it has to be for black women, trans [men and women] and all of those in the LGBTQ community.”

He called for non-black creators specifically to voice their support, because “[Black people] are not the people perpetrating” any backlash. Seeing the swell of support for everyone in his comments has been validating, adds Cherry, who says artists standing up for what is right should never be an issue. “We shouldn’t have to fear consequences from prospective jobs, especially if what you’re saying isn’t at all controversial. This is the right side of history. Saying that black lives matter and police brutality needs to stop is not controversial.”

He says he hopes that this moment in time is one that inspires positive action, both in terms of content and the diversity in the ranks. “I hope it will make studios, executives and creators, et cetera, on notice that it's not the time for empty rhetoric anymore. Hire black showrunners, put black executives in positions of power. These are necessary points. You can’t have black creators in a room where they are expected to speak for the whole community.”

As for Boyega, he took to Instagram to express gratitude for the swell of support from people all over the globe following his speech. "I want to thank you all for the love and support you have shared over the last few days, although nothing I have done is for praise, or is truly even enough, in the grand scheme of things," he posted on Sunday. "This is an intense time for our community, and the most important thing is for us to maintain momentum and not lose sight of how critical it is to pursue long term solutions and commitments, for the sake of our generation, and the next."

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

I want to thank you all for the love and support you have shared over the last few days, although nothing I have done is for praise, or is truly even enough, in the grand scheme of things. This is an intense time for our community, and the most important thing is for us to maintain momentum and not lose sight of how critical it is to pursue long term solutions and commitments, for the sake of our generation, and the next. Our individual pursuits of success and belonging remain, but now more than ever, it’s important to use this movement as fuel to inspire new ways of thinking, building, and growing, together. I believe any great movement starts with a renewal of the mind. I know you’re all thinking, what’s next? Where do we go from here? Because I’m thinking the same shit! Conversations about black businesses, ownership and support are happening, and I will continue to have these conversations with the full intention of birthing ideas that are sustainable and tangible. Let’s increase our knowledge! I’m excited to see an awakening happening in all of us! I’ll continue to use my platform to fight against the injustices and inequalities in our community, no matter what. Nonetheless, one man can’t do it alone - I need you, and we need each other! We need everyone, across industry’s, soci-economic backgrounds, countries, to unite with a shared goal of REAL change. Before the pandemic hit, I visited a few schools in Southwark, to share my journey and to truly understand the minds and needs of our next generation. It was eye opening and inspiring to say the least, and I look forward to continuing this work, and contributing more, once it is safe to do so. I urge the black men of our community, my peers, to do the same. Connecting with our kids and motivating them towards a future that is stronger and brighter, is urgent, and necessary. In the meantime, let’s work on clearing the runway for them, so they can take off, and fly. Love everyone, and stay safe x

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A version of this story first appeared in the June 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.