Kelly Marie Tran Address Online Harassment; Reveals Her Name Is Loan
by Erik Amaya
Star Wars: The Last Jedi star Kelly Marie Tran has broken her silence to pen an essay for The New York Times regarding the online harassment she suffered at the hands of short-sighted, alleged Star Wars fans and the insidious nature of a culture in which their message of hate connected to thoughts people of color often hold about the world around them.
As Tran put it, “It wasn’t their words, it’s that I started to believe them.”
“Their words seemed to confirm what growing up as a woman and a person of color already taught me: that I belonged in margins and spaces, valid only as a minor character in their lives and stories,” she continued. That sensation will no doubt be familiar to POCs in all strata of society. There is a certain background radiation telling minority groups both to shut up and be happy they have anything at all. For people who speak languages other than English, it begins in school — as it did for Tran — when kids make fun of that language, or the accent a non-native speaker brings to English. As former Simpsons showrunner Dana Gould told Hari Kondabolu in The Problem with Apu, some accents are just “inherently funny” to white American ears.
But rarely does that “inherent” humor come with any sort of awareness toward what it does to the person with the accent or language barrier.
As Tran continued her essay, she outlined other instances in which she was reminded that she was “the other.” From her parents changing their Vietnamese names to Western ones as they were easier to pronounce for English-speakers to waitress dismissing her as a foreign exchange student when out with her then-boyfriend and his family despite her perfect American English. “Their words reinforced a narrative I had heard my whole life,” she wrote. “That I was ‘other,’ that I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t good enough, simply because I wasn’t like them.”
Like many people of color, that sensation turned inward across her life as she blamed herself for not being the societal expectation, despite the fact the very same society expected her to exist “only in the background of their stories, doing their nails, diagnosing their illnesses, supporting their love interests — and perhaps the most damaging — waiting for them to rescue me.”
These thoughts all came to a head as supposed Star Wars fans swarmed her Instagram account to tell her she was ugly and that she did not belong in Star Wars. Though many of those fake Star Wars fans would claim they were just criticising the character she played, the real message was loud and clear: “how dare a non-white woman sneak into our space fantasy film series with such a prominent role.”
Tran concluded her essay by pointing out the actual achievement in being not only the first prominent woman of color in Star Wars, but also the “first Asian woman to appear on the cover of Vanity Fair.” She also announced her first real name, Loan, and signed off with a defiant “I am just getting started.”
I’ll be honest. As a nerd of color, I have always found the attacks on her appalling. But nerds of all stripes should feel ashamed by the actions of those who led to her to abandon a social media feed made of nothing but positivity. It was and continues to be an absolute disgrace.
Tran will return as key Rebel Rose Tico in Star Wars: Episode IX whether you like it or not.