When Kelly Marie Tran was cast in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it was a milestone for inclusivity in Hollywood: the first woman of color cast in the lead role of a Star Wars film. What should have been a celebratory moment turned sour because, well, the Internet tends to be trash and filled with trolls that enjoy diminishing members of marginalized communities.
In response to online bullying after the movie premiered in December, Tran deleted her Instagram posts and exited the land of social media.
Returning to the spotlight for the first time since then, Tran on Tuesday wrote an emotional piece in the New York Times to address not only her social-media exit but why she won’t let online harassers get the best of her.
Tran, who is of Vietnamese heritage, reflects on growing up and how she wanted to change how she looked, acted, and the language she spoke because she felt it made her different. When it came to the online harassers, it brought her back to that time. “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 said that “it wasn’t their words, it’s that I started to believe them.”
In a time when Hollywood is pushing inclusivity and the social climate has a divisive atmosphere, Tran’s words ring true and inspire change in the way that the harassed can react. She points out her whole life she was treated like the “other” and that she was shamed for the things that made her different — specifically her culture.
Fresh off the empowering success of Crazy Rich Asians, a story of cultural identity, Tran adds fuel to that empowerment as she unpacks her own experience coming from an immigrant family. She talks about how her parents adopted American names so it was easier for others to pronounce. She calls this “a literal erasure of culture,” and that it still hurts her to this day.
She admitted in the op-ed to having a shame for the world she grew up in because she was different. “This is what it is to grow up as a person of color in a white-dominated world,” she writes. “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.”
Tran said she hopes for a world where children of color “don’t spend their entire adolescence wishing to be white.” And how everyone, no matter what race, gender, sexual orientation, religion are seen as human beings.
“You might know me as Kelly,” she said. “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.”
Take note Melania: this is how you “Be Best” against online bullying.