Star Wars: The Last Jedi Kelly Marie Tran Speaks Out Against Trolls
“I won’t be marginalized by online harassment.” This is the title of Kelly Marie Tran’s bracing, crucial column in yesterday’s New York Times, a must-read for anyone, everyone who believes that an actor deserves to be treated like a human by the “fans” who purport to hold the keys to a franchise’s kingdom. The idea of super fandom is problematic in general; the arguments over what’s Star Wars canon and what’s not can be fun, even interesting, when they’re about minute plot points and issues of chronology or character origin. They become something entirely different, and indefensible, when they’re merely opportunities for “fans” to betray racist, misogynistic or homophobic beliefs and cloak them in the more palatable guise of franchise expertise. What happened to Tran was far worse than the “fans” who want to remake The Last Jedi because they were so appalled with writer/director Rian Johnson’s choices. Those folks were furious about his creative decisions—in Tran’s case, they were furious about her involvement at all.
You likely remember that Tran, one of the new faces in Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, had to delete her Instagram posts this past summer due to wave after wave of online harassment. Tran was a largely unknown actress who had landed a major role in the biggest franchise in the film world due to her excellent audition and evident chemistry with co-star John Boyega, her main screen partner. She was the first woman of color to have a leading role in a Star Wars film (The Force Awakens‘ Lupita Nyong’o is invisible behind her CGI-created character, and Solo‘s Thandie Newton hadn’t arrived on screen yet). Tran’s turn as the mechanic-turned-resistance hero Rose was a big deal; for Lucasfilm and Disney, for the Star Wars franchise and for fans. Representation matters. Let’s say it again; representation matters. Yet these so-called fans who ultimately forced Tran off Instagram didn’t like that she was a part of their beloved Star Wars universe, and they attacked her in force on social media. Tran went silent for months, preparing to reprise her role in J.J. Abrams’ Episode IX and staying out of the limelight. Until yesterday.
Tran’s Times column needs to be read in full. She speaks to an experience millions of people of color have, something they endure most often in silence. Tran knows she has a platform now, and she’s using it to speak out, to name the miseries that are visited upon women like her, and millions of others, for no other reason than they’re not white. Tran’s column isn’t an attack against super fandom or the toxic world of online trolls who can’t abide a woman of color in Star Wars, let alone female Ghostbusters. The column is about what these kinds of attacks do to an actual human being. How they can make a person feel as if their accusers and their most vicious haters know something essential about society that they don’t but must conform to. Her column speaks to the way this kind of hatred makes millions of kids of color dream the impossible—to wake up white.
“I want to live in a world where children of color don’t spend their entire adolescence wishing to be white. I want to live in a world where women are not subjected to scrutiny for their appearance, or their actions, or their general existence. I want to live in a world where people of all races, religions, socioeconomic classes, sexual orientations, gender identities and abilities are seen as what they have always been: human beings.”
Tran has learned that the haters don’t know anything more than their own hate. She’s ready to speak out. We should all listen. Read her full column here.
Kelly Marie Tran is Rose and John Boyega is Finn in THE LAST JEDI. Courtesy Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Studios