‘Maybe if I wasn’t Asian’: Star Wars actress Kelly Marie Tran strikes back at online racists in powerful essay

Tran, who wiped her Instagram account after months of online attacks, says she went into a ‘spiral of self-hate’ before realising she had been ‘brainwashed’ by her harassers

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2018, 12:26pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 August, 2018, 9:53pm

Star Wars actress Kelly Marie Tran proved on Tuesday that the pen is mightier than the lightsabre.

In an essay for The New York Times, The Last Jedi star, who became the first Asian American actress to win a prominent role in a Star Wars film, addressed online harassers as well as those who make minorities and women of colour feel marginalised.

Tran’s essay comes months after the actress scrubbed her Instagram account following racist and misogynistic campaigns from Star Wars “fans” who did not like her character, or Rian Johnson’s film.

I thought, ‘Oh, maybe if I was thinner’ or ‘Maybe if I grow out my hair’ and, worst of all, ‘Maybe if I wasn’t Asian’
Kelly Marie Tran

“It wasn’t their words, it’s that I started to believe them,” Tran wrote. “Their words seemed to confirm what growing up as a woman and a person of colour already taught me: that I belonged in margins and spaces, valid only as a minor character in their lives and stories.”

“And those words awakened something deep inside me – a feeling I thought I had grown out of,” she said. “The same feeling I had when at nine, I stopped speaking Vietnamese altogether because I was tired of hearing other kids mock me. Or at 17, when at dinner with my white boyfriend and his family, I ordered a meal in perfect English, to the surprise of the waitress, who exclaimed, ‘Wow, it’s so cute that you have an exchange student!’”

The 29-year-old said that for months she “went down a spiral of self-hate,” tore herself apart and put her harassers’ words above her own self-worth: “As much as I hate to admit it, I started blaming myself. I thought, ‘Oh, maybe if I was thinner’ or ‘Maybe if I grow out my hair’ and, worst of all, ‘Maybe if I wasn’t Asian’.”

It was then, she said, that she realised she had been lied to.

“I had been brainwashed into believing that my existence was limited to the boundaries of another person’s approval. I had been tricked into thinking that my body was not my own, that I was beautiful only if someone else believed it, regardless of my own opinion,” she wrote.

“I had been told and retold this by everyone: by the media, by Hollywood, by companies that profited from my insecurities, manipulating me so that I would buy their clothes, their make-up, their shoes, in order to fill a void that was perpetuated by them in the first place.”

Tran explained that this is “what it is to grow up as a person of colour in a white-dominated world” and “what it is to be a woman in a society that has taught its daughters that we are worthy of love only if we are deemed attractive by its sons.”

That, she said, is not the world she wants to leave behind.

“I want to live in a world where children of colour 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 wrote.

She concluded with a vow to reclaim her identity, and her Vietnamese name.

“You might know me as Kelly,” she wrote. “I am the first woman of colour to have a leading role in a ‘Star Wars’ movie. I am the first Asian woman to appear on the cover of Vanity Fair. My real name is Loan. And I am just getting started.”