Star Wars: Episode IX‘s Kelly Marie Tran has finally spoken out about the harassment that took its toll on her earlier this summer. Tran revealed in her piece for the New York Times that she has had to hide her Vietnamese heritage. To assimilate and gain acceptance in American culture she and her family have had to erase their heritage, change their names, and feel as if they don’t belong in a white American society. There were moments were the targeted harassment made her start to believe she belonged in a marginalized space. Obviously, I can’t convey her words with her power so I highly suggest reading the piece published by Tran in her own words. At the end of her piece, in a beautiful moment, she reveals her real name is Loan and she’s embracing her name, herself, and her heritage in multicultural society. Once again, read her story and her words. While this piece covers Tran’s experience, it isn’t her story alone. Over the years, I have heard others say the same things verbatim and what she is feeling and experiencing is a common American experience.
A few weeks back I covered a story about Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s Kelly Marie Tran leaving Instagram because of targeted harassment. I wasn’t the first one to cover the story by a long shot. I waited to see if there was going to be any developments and after a few days it was clear that the rumors were true and she was gone and not coming back anytime soon. Kelly Marie Tran had left Instagram because she was being harassed by racists and those wishing to prey on her insecurities as a woman or person of color. With no one to reach out to directly in KMT’s camp, I tweeted to Rian Johnson. The director responded, rightfully so that he didn’t want to speak for her, however, it was pretty clear it was because of incessant toxicity, insults, and abuse by some individuals.
Having waited to see how the incredibly disappointing situation was going to shake out, a group took credit for being a part of the targeted harassment and so I covered the unacceptable situation. Never did I believe one group was solely responsible and one group only. However, I covered the hate group that was taking responsibility because they were doing just that. In my opinion, someone taking the credit for the trolling of an individual is an admission of guilt to being a part of the problem. I encouraged the Star Wars online community to report their Facebook page and after many dismissals by Facebook, the social media platform terminated the troll’s group page that was clearly created for one thing and one thing only: harassment. Twitter simply sat on its hands and denied the infographics the group created to celebrate their hateful actions was in violation of the platform’s policies.
To my surprise, I felt a sudden and unexpected level of intense hatred of my defense of Tran and bullying on the internet. One YouTuber made a video about how the “shill” Star Wars media made a “fake” account to frame the “alt-right.” These types of YouTubers call people out so their followers can carry out the trolling on their behalf. So basically, I was a guy reading about what was happening, how a group had taken credit, covered the happenings and then all of a sudden I’m part of an elaborate conspiracy by the left-wing media to frame whitey for clicks because we plant “liberal false flags” (not to mention these types of articles are the least-read types of articles on entertainment-driven websites like this one and film blogs). The video and response was level 11 out of 10 on the batshit insane meter. The person that ran the piece was a guy named Jeremy Hambly of “The Quartering.” It was followed by the toxic Star Wars-hating channel “Geeks and Gamers” and Ethan Van Sciver’s “Comic Artist Pro Secrets.” I obviously don’t want to link to them but I am linking to the first to prove it exists and how utterly batshit insane it is. I suggest avoiding these channels on YouTube when you see them, don’t support them. These toxic players denied the existence of harassment against Kelly Marie Tran because if you deny the problem has any validity, you can debase the need for change and let the cycle continue. You can make a bogeyman called “The Social Justice Warriors,” and profit from the controversies while pretending hating women and white empowerment isn’t the true name of the Gamergate tactics. These types of channels and others like Grace Randolph have denied the empirical harassment exists or tried to say it was deserved because the last Star Wars movie upset them and it is all a conspiracy to cover up the failings of Lucasfilm.
The following days after my article went up and the videos went up the trolls came out on my social media. There were hundreds of Twitter accounts with zero to 40 followers, and with insanely varied posting histories (one account we observed was intensely about heterosexual rights for an era, then it was an openly gay man, and then a Star Wars fan angry about The Last Jedi) that generally lacked any consistency. Having looked at these accounts it was clear these accounts were created or purchased for one purpose only and that was to troll. The “content” creators like the YouTubers mentioned above are either racist, insane, or just looking to profit off the drama they can create (or maybe all three, for all I know). I can’t know the heart of those who don’t cover things from a place of love. But one thing was clear: these people mentioning any type of social injustice on the internet about a large property would summon the trolls who would attempt to intimidate and gaslight anyone covering that racist bullies exist. Even when John Boyega tweeted and said it was real the point fell on deaf ears and was used by the troll inciters to cry that Lucasfilm employees should shut up and not express their opinions because they hate “the fans.”
In the video created about my story by “The Quartering” it was claimed this was all to plant “liberal false flags” that some kind of made-up left-wing Illuminati and I were planting. The video played with the narrative the harassers were too small in number for this to ever have happened and we were faking it. The Twitter account of the group who took credit for the harassment of Kelly Marie Tran had a small amount of followers, therefore it was a conspiracy and fake (never mind that the Facebook page consisted of a few hundred followers). However, the amount of accounts I had blocked was around 300 and were generally liking the content from the video creators mentioned above. Those same accounts intimidated and harassed my peers as well. Some of them aren’t as angry of a person as I am and it got to them rather than motivating them. It can feel all consuming and if you don’t think hard enough, the discourse the trolls start to create starts to seem like everyone believes what they’re saying and you’re the crazy one. They try to gaslight you. They swarm you and seem bigger than they are. But that was my experience with a few hundred that felt like a few thousand. The trolls are then inspired by podcasts like “Rebel Force Radio” that denied racist comments were left on Rose Tico’s Wookiepedia page even though the organization confirmed it wasn’t a liberal looking to plant false evidence to get media coverage but rather several different individuals not smart enough to mask their IPs. My shitty couple of days on the internet as a white dude is only a sliver of what someone like Loan Kelly Marie Tran has endured before Star Wars and then with a white-hot intensity after becoming the first woman of color to have a leading role in a Star Wars film all the time and not just in brief moments like myself. It is easy to understand why someone like Ahmed Best considered suicide with that level of intensity that does not stop.
I have enough connections in Star Wars culture to know that what the trolls were saying to me wasn’t the truth. That isn’t what fans thought. It was what politically motivated players with pop culture knowledge were saying to fight the “culture war” they lost a long time ago (the heroes are women and people of color). But someone like Tran has had that experience to some degree her whole life. The vast majority of fans were disgusted that Kelly Marie Tran was bullied, had to deal with racist comments, and had an awful experience in the public eye thanks to Star Wars fame. Friends of ours made a video for Kelly to let her know she is loved and accepted by Star Wars culture. Being hateful isn’t how Star Wars fans are or what they believe in being. Star Wars fans love the visual effects, the sweeping score, and the themes and values the Star Wars saga. Hating a young effervescent actor is not compatible with any of the values the saga expressed.
I cannot for any reason figure out a sane excuse as to why anyone would deny Loan Kelly Marie Tran’s experience or even pretend like her experience is a one-off and unique or not even happening at all. In my opinion, those that do this are as complicit as those that carried out the trolling and harassment in the first place. They’re a part of the problem seeking to empower the negative forces making the experiences of people like Tran seem illegitimate. The hiding and erasure of these people’s stories is extremely harmful towards moving towards a progressive society that accepts and solves its social failings, deems them unacceptable, and moves towards positive change. The internet is real life. It isn’t something fake. When you are shitty online, you’re being shitty to a real person that carries that baggage with them when they step away from the laptop or put the phone down.
Christians have a slogan which reads “What Would Jesus Do?” Star Wars fans can ask “What Would Luke Skywalker Do?” Would he deny the experience of individuals and injustice? Would he belittle those that want to empower social justice? Never. It is philosophically incompatible with Skywalker and the morals and values of Star Wars that rebel against fascism and champion inclusion. Anyone behaving this way is the villain in real life. There is nothing heroic in harassing anyone. There is nothing heroic in defending harassers or siding with those that encourage it or hide behind the anonymity of the internet. Anyone doing this is acting like a monster. The response when confronted will be “I was doing it for the lolz” at best but just because you laugh about being a racist/sexist fuckhead doesn’t mean you aren’t one. You are defined by your actions.
The backlash I experienced only proved to me how intense and motivated the toxic racists and sexists are. These types are emboldened by the anonymity the internet offers them to express what they never would in open society. Ignoring the trolls didn’t make them go away. It didn’t keep Loan Kelly Marie Tran online interacting with her fans. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know letting the trolls form an unchallenged discourse is not the answer and it needs to be combated with corrections, mockery, and by the sure numbers of fans that disagree with the trolls’ passionate need to silence women, people of color, and those that bring negative attention to social injustice.
If anything really good has come about all of this it is that Loan Tran has realized and embraced her American story and it does not involve the erasure of her cultural past. The bad guys that had a win when she left are ultimately the losers in this because the actor they abused is now better for having endured their torment. She has achieved some kind of self-acceptance and now refuses to let the forces that made her feel inadequate have any power over her. The good guys always win in the end.
*Note: Disliking The Last Jedi does not make you racist. However, disliking a movie because the cast isn’t mainly white and male might be a sign of something more problematic to discuss with your therapist or mom and dad.