In Naked Singularity, British actor John Boyega, best known as Finn in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, represents Gen Z’s casual undermining of law and principle. Here, Boyega plays an American — Casi, a New York public defender. “One of 15,000 for the 10.5 million people arrested last year,” he sneers. Casi takes pride in his cynicism: “I work for a machine, the U.S. criminal-justice system.” But frustration and contempt move him to crime — a drug deal concocted by fellow p.d. cynic Dean (Bill Skarsgard) and sassy traffic impound clerk Lea (Olivia Cooke).
This band of insiders is different from the alienated dropouts familiar from our counterculture past (as in Godard’s Band of Outsiders, from 1965), owing to trendy Gen Z privilege and decadent wokeness. Boyega epitomizes that change — the insider’s subversion of social tradition and social order — through this on-screen misadventure in which every character is corrupt and self-justifying as well as through his off-screen activism.
Last year, Boyega spoke at a Black Lives Matter rally in London where he declared, “I’ll continue to use my platform to fight against the injustices and inequalities in our community, no matter what.” Now, Naked Singularity demonstrates Boyega translating his black British statement on injustice to this dubious American role. Casi’s individuality as a young black professional — his questionable commitment to the law and defensive notions of masculine pride — is symbolized by the samurai sword mounted on his apartment wall. His heist buddies mix with other miscreants (including members of a Mexican cartel, plus Orthodox Jews out of a Safdie brothers crime flick) as if to use ethnic diversity to justify the film’s romantic view of crime and anarchy.
Director Chase Palmer and co-writer David Matthews adapt Sergio De La Pava’s novel A Naked Singularity, which employed a “black hole” astrophysics metaphor to portray social collapse and elevate its protagonist’s routine youthful disillusionment. So Palmer and Matthews use Boyega as their convenient black male metaphor to address and subvert law, order, and the criminal-justice system. Casi is told, “People like to think [scientific] laws are fixed, but when they see the world falling apart all around them, one can break the law, my friend, and still believe in justice.” This is the simplest, clearest, cheapest statement on social revolution that Millennial Hollywood has brazened — so far.
Boyega’s blank-faced response to that subversive rationalization epitomizes his failure as a socially conscious movie star. He’s no longer the feral young actor first seen as a West Indian Londoner fighting off alien invaders in Attack the Block, Joe Cornish’s clever sci-fi, class-conflict movie from 2011. Boyega had suggested a portly version of the young Sidney Poitier crossed with the facile charisma of the young Denzel Washington. This combination promised heroics still unfulfilled in the Star Wars series, where his sidekick role was sidelined by Hollywood’s feminist preference for Daisy Ridley’s Rey, Oscar Isaac’s fast-tracked Poe Dameron, and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. After The Force Awakens, Boyega traded his screen-star attributes for drab social-justice movies such as Kathryn Bigelow’s disastrous Detroit and the Red, White and Blue episode of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series, which provided a predictable role as one of the first blacks to desegregate London’s Metropolitan police.
Boyega’s potential movie stardom is reduced to Naked Singularity’s race-baiting mumble jumble in the scene where his eccentric neighbor (Tim Blake Nelson) explains the concept of “singularity” in physics: “Picture a star turning into a black hole. What’s in that hole that we can’t see? His singularity.”
Naked Singularity makes it apparent that the physics of Hollywood’s race liberalism is defective and hypocritical. This would be just another heist flick except that its social sarcasm is dressed in race-fashion and anarchy, the latest styles of Hollywood’s political decay.