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John Boyega on Teaming with Converse for the Create Next Film Fund, Working with Michael K. Williams

The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter
 2021-10-20
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John Boyega and Converse are stepping up to support London’s new class of young Black filmmakers. He and the Nike-owned company are teaming together for the Create Next Film Fund , which will provide mentorship and resources to create a five-minute short.

“They actually had a portfolio of young Black talent — some of whom they’ve always wanted to collaborate with — that they gave to me once I made the request that I wanted to collaborate in this way,” Boyega tells The Hollywood Reporter over a Zoom call from London. “And then once I saw the options I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m game.’ Two of the people I’ve heard about their work off the grapevine.”

The first lineup of talent includes Kemi Anna Adeeko, Ade Femzo, Kaylen Francis, Lorraine Khamali and Ibrahim K Muhammad. Joining Boyega on the U.K.-based mentor team is Bounce Cinema founder and artistic director Mathieu Ajan and The Elephant Room co-founder and head of talent Shanice Mears.

This is “a big deal” for the rising creators, says Boyega. “When you decide you’re a creative, especially at a very young age, you are met with a whole bunch of obstacles and much less resources. I think it’s important for big companies, especially companies that benefit off of young people who are consumers, to also give back in the same way. Converse as a brand has been [involved with] various creative people, you know, from rappers to actors. It means that they are now in a network and a pool of talent where they also have the money, the resources to help, to put them in the best position to succeed.”

He continues: “I hope that door becomes bigger and bigger. Obviously, we’re at the start with this, but as we [continue], we hope for more growth and more filmmakers that are interesting, dynamic and talented. So I hope we grow our efforts when it comes to that, but also at the same time, I hope young people find that the efforts inspire them to also try harder; to have the motivation to go in, regardless of whether they’re directly involved with the Create Next program or not.”

“As a young kid myself in London, trying to be a professional actor for me at many times, that was the only thing that could possibly keep me going because this world does not really promise you that you’re going to be an actor in movies,” adds Boyega. “So it’s hard to see, and the only motivation you can sometimes get is from what people are doing. And then I hope that Converse is moved as a company and sparks something else with other brands in a genuine way.”

For Boyega, the Converse partnership marks a full-circle moment. “I saw them in movies first,” he says of the iconic shoe brand’s classic Chuck Taylor high-tops . “I remember Will Smith’s Converse got destroyed in I, Robot — do you remember that?” he recalls. “I love the black and white classics, I got them on right now … I’ve got the full look with the hoodie and the sweatpants. I’m kitted out!” (Converse is one of Boyega’s latest fashion collaborators; his sustainable menswear collection for H&M will be released Oct. 28.)

The Star Wars and Small Axe actor will be catching up with the five filmmakers over dinner in the coming weeks. “They’re still prepping, they start shooting soon. I’m really excited to see what they have cooking up and also get to know their individual style even more from what I’ve seen previously.”

It’s been a busy year for the 29-year-old, who has wrapped filming for the pulp comedy They Cloned Tyrone with Jamie Foxx and Teyonah Parris (“I had the best time I’ve had to date,” he says) and for newcomer director Abi Corman’s thriller, 892 , which was among the late Michael K. Williams’ final films. He’ll also reprise his role as Moses in the sequel to Attack the Block , and he’s currently bulking up for his role as King Ghezo in Gina Prince-Blythewood’s historical drama, The Woman King , alongside Viola Davis and Thuso Mbedu.

“I [play] the strong kid king who has been in war before, who eats natural foods and lives in an environment where, you know, they’re not having processed sugar all of the time. The script is like, ‘He’s shredded to pieces.’ I was like, ‘Damn, not even a little softness?’,” jokes Boyega. “All I’m saying, love handles or something? Those are easy to get! But yeah, I’m preparing for that.”

With several other films in pre-production (including Attack of the Block 2 , Borderland and The Test ), and in between mentoring and gym sessions, Boyega is splitting his time across forthcoming projects with UpperRoom, the production company he founded in 2016 that recently inked a first-look deal with ViacomCBS International Studios’ VIS Kids division.

Though unable to speak on the to-be-announced projects, he shares that “it’s exciting to be on the other end of the camera. When I first started in Attack the Block , it was all about my acting because I hadn’t been in that space before. And then when you get more comfortable within that realm, to be able to look around and be more curious. The curiosity just led me to other aspects of filmmaking that I definitely enjoy and I feel like I have a knack for, a path that way. I also want to educate myself and getting the proper experience, not to just use it as a tagline or a contractual line. I wanted to be producing, really finding great content, great stories and then great individuals.”

Ahead, Boyega also reveals how working with Converse compares to past brand collaborations, why he was visiting students across London, what it was like working with Michael K. Williams and how he hopes the Create Next Film Fund will fill the gaps in opportunities for Black talents behind the scenes. Read on below, and watch the inspiring campaign video here .

What was your impression of Converse before working with them?

I remember just seeing them around and just thinking they were cool. And my sister had a few pairs and when I could wear size sevens, I squeezed in. It’s a different story now, obviously, but I used to be able to still collect the hand-me-downs from my older sis. My awareness of the brand [comes from] just growing up as a kid in a city as well.

Now I’ve got an olive [pair], and some new ones with a unique [brown] material and exclusive art paint on it. Lord knows it might be some exclusive gift that nobody can get!

You’ve collaborated with other brands before. How does your experience with Converse compare?

It’s brilliant because it has been consistent in terms of conversation, the creatives that they have on the ground, and even in terms of hair and makeup. The crew and individuals that they hired I personally knew who I’ve worked with previously, who I know that have needed work and opportunity. Converse as a company, and the individuals [there] just engage with the right people because we’re not going to assume that people that make some dope sneakers are the best at choosing a great director.

But they know who to put in charge of the right things to make sure that the creative process is smooth and so far, so good. I’m really, really enjoying this collaboration, but most importantly, I’m excited about when this grows bigger and when more people get involved and how this is gonna really be an official network for our industry.

There also continues to be a conversation across many industries, not just in Hollywood, that Black creatives are still not getting credit where it’s due. TikTok is just one of the more recent examples .

We all know in the industry that we’re seeing a big hole in our efforts, especially in the results in terms of individual crew members that we’re seeing on set in various different departments. We’re seeing a lack of specifically Black individuals — and as a Black man myself, that’s gonna affect you very much in a different way. Especially when I’ve been involved with some of the biggest movies in the industry, and I’ve seen so much opportunity, but little shared out and a combination of little awareness as well.

I don’t think it’s all a hundred percent a spiteful thing. I think also the combination of it is awareness, it’s education and it’s opportunity. So this is just literally the first step in trying to target that. And in the next few coming months, I’ll have a few more strategies that I’ve put together to help in that process. No man is an island; other people can do it too.

Are you able to share more details about those upcoming projects?

Soon, soon! I’ve got something cooking for young actors, especially in communities where they can’t necessarily afford the best kind of training or building up something. Before the pandemic cracked open, I was actually visiting schools in my borough just to meet the kids and surprise them, but also to see their awareness in terms of creative opportunities. Even if they’re aware that if one movie represents a town, [there are other jobs besides being an actor]. You can have doctors and you can have entertainment lawyers, you can have a teacher who teaches the child actors. You can have the people on the rigs and the photographers, there’s so many jobs and opportunity.

Clearly, you’ve been busy. What was it like working on 892 and with Michael K. Williams?

It was incredible. You know, people would say that, but honestly, he was a very, very chill guy; a very curious person — eye contact, interested in you. In the movie a lot of the times we’re not actually together face to face because we’re on the phone, but he did anyway to do his off-lines off camera. Just very devoted to the craft and a very, very good guy. Meeting him — obviously knowing him from The Wire , playing Omar — it was crazy to then meet somebody [you respect] and then establish a good, a good connection, and then for something unfortunate to happen. It’s really tragic.

And also on this is Kwame Kwei-Armah. He and Abi [Corbin] also co-wrote. Kwame gave me my first job in the industry. It’s like a full-circle moment project.

Back to what you’re working on with UpperRoom and Converse, it all seems to go right back into your creative and professional bucket of resources.

Yeah, definitely. And a lot it will be consistent with the messaging and the type of help that I like to give to young people, and then specifically [to] Black people. That’s a combination of my interests and that’s where I specifically feel where I can really impart some of my gifts. I definitely want to collaborate with the right people, and I feel like this is a great step in a really good direction.

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