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Racism

Dark side of Star Wars fandom: toxic trolls and racist attacks take toll on Asian-American actress Kelly Marie Tran

Kelly Marie Tran deleted her Instagram posts – and it may be tied to the harassment of Star Wars actresses

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 June, 2018, 11:53am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 June, 2018, 8:59pm

The dark side of Star Wars fandom recently reared its head when Kelly Marie Tran, the actress who plays Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, was run off Instagram by misogynistic and racist messages from fans who didn’t like her character in the movie.

The episode was not an uncommon one. Daisy Ridley, who stars as the heroine Rey, quit social media last year for similar reasons.

They are far from the first women to be hounded by bitter, mostly male fans who didn’t approve of their entry into a fictional pop-culture world that some fans feel a misguided sense of ownership of.

Such toxic abuse has long been a staple of darker social-media realms, fan-group message boards and internet comments pages.

Obsession – loving or poisonous – has helped fuel the most dedicated fan bases, whose fervour is craved and cultivated by billion-dollar brands.

But the scorn heaped on Tran – a 29-year-old Vietnamese-American actress who has been overjoyed at her induction into Star Wars – sparked a backlash of its own.

Several days after the film’s release in December, for instance, the fan-run encyclopaedia site “Wookieepedia” was edited to contain racist comments about her, according to multiple outlets.

In noting the change in Tran’s account last Monday, the fan site Star Wars Facts pointed to “months of harassment” that Tran had faced over her portrayal of Rose.

“What’s not to love?” asked Mark Hamill, aka Luke Skywalker, with a photo of himself and Tran and the hashtag “GetALifeNerds”.

Affectionate fan art of Tran’s character began circling widely on Twitter.

The Last Jedi writer-director Rian Johnson forcefully came to his actress’ defence.

“On social media a few unhealthy people can cast a big shadow on the wall, but over the past 4 years I’ve met lots of real fellow SW fans,” said Johnson.

“We like & dislike stuff but we do it with humour, love & respect. We’re the VAST majority, we’re having fun & doing just fine.”

On Instagram, Tran had offered upbeat and encouraging posts, such as images of her and castmate Ngô Thanh Vân – credited in Last Jedi as Veronica Ngo – wearing traditional Vietnamese clothing in the fall while promoting the film in Vietnam.

In her press tour posts, Tran also expressed pride in her heritage, as HuffPost reported.

“So much of me is because of what my parents experienced in this country,” Tran wrote of Vietnam in an Instagram post.

“So much of me is because of the things my parents overcame so that I could have the luxury of having a dream.”

Before being cast in Last Jedi, Tran was a relatively little-known comedic actress in films and web series.

Similarly, Ridley was launched into global fame before retreating from social media.

“I was on Instagram, trying to do that whole thing, and people weren’t very nice,” Ridley told Glamour last year about quitting the platform in 2016 – the year after she first starred as the heroine Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

“I posted a thing about gun regulations, because I was at an event in tribute to the Orlando shooting at Pulse. People weren’t nice about how I looked. And I was like, ‘I’m out.’ Simple as that. That is not what I signed up for.”

Ridley went on to say about social media: “It’s not good for me, personally. I’m just not equipped for it. I’m super-sensitive – not too sensitive – but I really feel things.

Alt-right trolls wage war on ‘Last Jedi’, claiming men should be masters of the Star Wars universe

“Also there is also a sense that I’m asked who I’m dating a lot more than (co-star) John (Boyega) is. I don’t answer, because I have things in my life that are private.”

The Last Jedi, which dared to break some of the Star Wars norms, proved especially divisive among some aficionados.

Other efforts to boost multiculturalism and gender equality in Hollywood blockbusters have also provoked politically tinged responses.

Before he was president, Donald Trump was among those to criticise the female-led Ghostbusters, which became a lightning rod in 2016.

At the premiere Wednesday of Ocean’s 8, also a franchise remade with actresses in the leads, Sandra Bullock was still aghast about backlash to Ghostbusters.

“That was unfair on a level that I can’t even not be mad about talking about,” Bullock told Variety. “(The cast) literally walked into a firing squad. You had five of the most gifted comedian actresses on the planet – I’m just gonna leave it at that.”

The vitriol of the overindulged fanboy has long been an unfortunately common component of blockbuster entertainment, from Marvel films to Game of Thrones.

But just as other long-ingrained practices of a historically male-dominated movie industry are being reshaped, the sway of the sexist superfan may be waning.

More than the low grosses of Solo, the treatment of Tran poses a potentially damaging challenge to the franchise: if these are Star Wars fans, who wants to be a Star Wars fan?

Ironically, it was Tran’s rousing moment in The Last Jedi that supplied the best answer.

“This is how we win,” says Rose.

“Not fighting what we hate. Saving what we love.”

Associated Press, The Washington Post