Jedi Training

Yoda Black Lives Matter photographer never expected to go viral

"It was a little bit surreal," he tells Inverse.

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Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

"We are what they grow beyond." Master Yoda said those words in 2017's Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and they are ringing true for actor/activist John Boyega. On Instagram, the movie star shared a picture of a Yoda statue with a very important message, in a way only Yoda could say.

Update 6/9 — The picture was taken by San Francisco resident Jason Standiford, vice president of engineering at Revinate, who tells Inverse via Twitter direct message confirming he is the photographer. Standiford also confirmed he did not write the graffiti, and does not know who did.

The Yoda statue is near Standiford's work in the Presidio. He found the message already written on a recent afternoon walk around his office complex. "When I walked up, I saw some writing on it. I was like, 'Oh wow. That's cool,'" Standiford says.

Yoda became a way of voicing his own support for the widespread protests.

"I've been struggling to figure out what to say. I didn't want to be insensitive but I wanted to show support. And then when I saw that Yoda statute, it was kind of a good cross-section of who I was," he says. "Sci-fi, Star Wars, and feeling really passionate about what's happening. So I snapped the picture and put it up on Facebook."

Standiford didn't add any captions to his Facebook post. He simply uploaded it to his own personal page. "This is kind of what I was trying to say."

Later, Standiford found his photo shared on the social media accounts of John Boyega and Mark Hamill. "I literally sat for ten minutes looking at my computer like, 'What?' I was so confused. I don't know how he got a picture I posted on my private Facebook like two days before. It was a little bit surreal."

Ultimately, Standiford is "happy" that the message is out in the world. "Whoever the artist was that did the graffiti must be pretty excited, too."

What Happened? — On Monday, days after Boyega gave a passionate speech that "Black lives have always mattered" at Hyde Park in London, the film star shared on his Instagram page a photo of a Yoda statue kept at a fountain at the Lucasfilm production studios in San Francisco. Written in green chalk, it reads "Matter, black lives do."

While Boyega shared it on his Instagram with no captioning or sourcing, author Ziya Tong also shared it on Twitter with sourcing to Reddit — the exact subreddit is unclear. Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian also shared the image on his Twitter feed, which appeared to be its first boost of viral popularity.

Why this Yoda statue matters — Besides the comforting thought that a wise Jedi Master would, in fact, say that black lives matter, even in a galaxy far, far away, the picture arrives the same weekend that Confederate statues are being taken down across the southern United States. While some were taken down by protesters for Black Lives Matter, others were taken down by the city itself, such as the "Appomattox" statue in Old Town Alexandria in Virginia. Some statues commemorating slave traders in the UK have also been toppled down.

The debate over Confederate statues and Confederate flags in the 21st-century U.S. has been a long one. Here's a 2017 segment from Last Week Tonight exploring the topic.

But with the recent protests spurred by the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, citizens have taken it upon themselves to remove physical monuments that honor the losing side of the American Civil War, a rebel army that fought primarily for the slavery of Black people in America.

The Inverse Analysis — It should be said that Yoda was not a Confederate figure, but is a fictional character in the popular Star Wars media franchise. And this statue is not on public property, like a park, but on the grounds of the Letterman Digital Arts Center where one can find the lobby to Lucasfilm. That said, it's hard to argue that a statue of Yoda is more offensive and more controversial than a statue commemorating a traitorous army that aimed to keep slaves.

As for Boyega, the actor has more or less distanced himself from Star Wars. "Over it! Onwards and upwards" he tweeted on January 29. In another tweet, he acknowledged that the 2019 installment The Rise of Skywalker was a paycheck to afford him focus on other projects.

When the protests began and after Boyega tweeted his hatred for racists, Boyega said Star Wars was some sort of distraction.

“That Star Wars movie got you lot all the way fucked up," he said in a now-deleted tweet. "I am staying on topic. We are addressing a specific issue.”

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