“I am the first woman of colour to have a leading role in a Star Wars movie… And I am just getting started.”
Earlier this summer, Kelly Marie Tran deleted every single post on her Instagram account. The actor, who played maintenance worker Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, had endured months of online abuse from people who disliked her character – the first lead female character of colour in the history of Star Wars.
Some of Tran’s harassers claimed they were simply unhappy with her performance in the film, but – sadly, unsurprisingly – much of the abuse was racist. One alt-right internet personality mocked Tran’s ethnicity, weight and attractiveness on Twitter, sparking a pile-on of trolls; elsewhere, the “Wookieepedia” page for her character was changed to include deeply racist language. It would have been enough to make anyone want to take a break from social media.
Now, though, Tran has stepped back into the spotlight with a powerful essay – informing those who abused her online that she’s not going anywhere.
Writing in The New York Times, Tran acknowledges that leaving Instagram was necessary for her to preserve her own emotional wellbeing.
“It wasn’t their words, it’s that I started to believe them,” she writes. “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.”
Spoken by white people, these words “reinforced a narrative I had heard my whole life: that I was ‘other,’ that I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t good enough, simply because I wasn’t like them,” Tran continues.
Tran readily admits that the racist abuse got under her skin, causing her to go “down a spiral of self-hate”. “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.’”
But then, she says, she “realised I 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.”
Tran emphasises that while her experience was played out on the world stage, experiences like hers are not uncommon.
“This is what it is to grow up as a person of colour in a white-dominated world. This is 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.
“This is the world I grew up in, but not the world I want to leave behind,” she continues. “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.”
Tran then signs off with one of the best conclusions to an article that we’ve ever written.
“You might know me as Kelly.
“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.”
In 2018, it takes real guts to take on the armies of misogynist fanboys who dwell on the internet – particularly as a woman of colour. And in contrast to the months when she was being bombarded with abuse, Tran’s essay sparked a rapturous response on social media.
It’s a searing, brave and beautifully defiant piece of writing, and one that we recommend reading in full. We can’t wait to see what Tran does next.
Images: Liam Arthur Norris / Lucasfilm Ltd ™