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Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s Kelly Marie Tran addresses social media toxicity, disappearance (update)

‘Afraid, but doing it anyway’

Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and Finn (John Boyega) in Star Wars: The Last Jedi David James/Lucasfilm

Update (Aug. 21): Kelly Marie Tran penned a poignant essay for the New York Times about her decision to leave social media following toxic backlash to her role in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

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,” Tran wrote. “Their 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. And that feeling, I realize now, was, and is, shame, a shame for the things that made me different, a shame for the culture from which I came from. And to me, the most disappointing thing was that I felt it at all.”

Tran wrote that despite the backlash, and how it made her feel originally, she’s not giving up.

“You might know me as Kelly,” Tran wrote. “I am the first woman of color 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.”

The full op-ed can be read on the New York Times’ website. Our original story is as follows. The story’s headline was changed to reflect Tran’s op-ed.

Original: Kelly Marie Tran, The Last Jedi’s breakout star who played Rose Tico, has reportedly left Instagram because of harassment. It’s the latest incident in a long line of toxicity aimed at the Star Wars cast by its fans — a reminder of how loud and unwelcoming the fandom can often be.

Kelly Marie Tran Kelly Marie Tran/Instagram

It’s possible that Tran deleted Instagram because she simply didn’t want to be on the platform anymore. Tran has repeatedly said that she doesn’t like using social media, including Instagram, adding that she doesn’t like to be in the public eye, scrutinized and judged. Many of these statements were posted on Tran’s Instagram account. Those Instagram posts are now deleted, making them impossible to embed, but tweets with screenshots illustrate some of Tran’s fears over being such a publicly accessibly figure on Instagram. Polygon has reached out to Tran’s representatives for comment on the situation.

Tran doesn’t have a Twitter account, unlike some of her co-stars, making Instagram one of the easiest ways for people to find — or attack — her. Below is an example of people responding to Tran’s character Rose on the official Star Wars Instagram account whenever she appeared.

Instagram Tran
Comments on the official Star Wars Instagram account about Tran’s character.
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This isn’t the first time that Tran has suffered harassment at the hands of angry, entitled fans, either. Paul Ray Ramsey, an alt-right personality, tweeted a comparison photo of Tran and Battlestar Galactica actress Grace Park (who played the fighter pilot Boomer) mocking Tran’s weight.

Another group of racist trolls targeted Tran’s Wookiepedia page, changing her name to “Ching Chong Wing Tong” and describing her as “stupid, autistic and retarded.”

The page was later changed by Wookiepedia’s staff, and a statement to Newsweek confirmed the page would remain in lockdown to ensure the page couldn’t be changed back.

“The wiki admins take this very seriously and took the steps to resolve this situation as quickly as possible, including escalation to our team, and subsequent lockdown,” a representative told Newsweek. “This lockdown will remain for the foreseeable future and we will be closely monitoring activity on this wiki.”

This isn’t unique to Tran, albeit she received an especially bad case of harassment. Almost everyone involved with the film was bullied: Daisy Ridley deleted her Instagram account after upset fanboys started harassing her; The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson dealt with hordes of angry people on Twitter following the movie’s release; John Boyega responded to racist Star Wars fans who were upset about his inclusion in the new franchise.

Director Rian Johnson told The Standard that, although he knew what he was getting into when he signed up, he was taken aback by the level of anger and scorn “10 percent” of the community felt toward him and the film.

“There were death threats,” Johnson said. “It’s balanced by a few things — 90 percent of the stuff I got online was not only lovely and encouraging but phenomenally thoughtful. Fans would send me essays on the movie. The other 10 percent is just loud and gets amplified. At first I was freaked out but then I realized the things people were angry about are the things I’m most proud about.”

Johnson is still on Twitter and Instagram, but it only takes a cursory glance through his mentions to see he’s still receiving harassment almost daily. Tran and Ridley, however, are almost completely offline, choosing to not deal with the abusive messages sent their way.

This story is a really about a couple of different things: It’s a story about the obtuse level of harassment celebrities often deal with just because they’re public figures; it’s a story about Instagram’s inability to properly design a platform with anti-harassment measures in mind; it’s a story about the blatant sexism and racism an actress has to deal with just for participating in a movie.

It’s also a story about how absolutely toxic a very loud, reactionary part of Star Wars fandom has descended into. Tran was a positive, happy ball of energy when she made her debut at Star Wars Celebration in 2017. Her enthusiasm for Star Wars, her absolute obsession with the franchise and her admiration for being cast in a series she dreamed of was infectious. She reminded us all that Star Wars can make us feel like kids again; that we’ve built lifelong bonds and friendships with people over a film franchise that spans generations.

But Star Wars is no longer a purely fun experience for those involved, because of an incredibly outspoken, organized army of trolls. Both Tran and Ridley were excited newcomers to the franchise and, although they clearly still love being a part of it, that light seems to have dimmed. The only way they seemingly felt able to deal with being a public figure in a movie that fans so grotesquely attacked was to leave part of their public lives behind.

Star Wars fandom has transformed, for many people, into a battle between people who believe they have ownership over a franchise they literally have nothing to do with and people just trying to do their jobs. Fandom used to be inspiring, but a large chunk of it is now gross and off-putting.