When Kelly Marie Tran was cast in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it was a huge deal. Not only was she a largely unknown actress landing a major role in a Star Wars sequel, she was the first woman of color ever to have a leading role in a Star Wars movie. But since everything is terrible, Tran was attacked before fans even got to know her character. Then when The Last Jedi came out, and writer/director Rian Johnson paired Tran’s character Rose up with Finn (John Boyega) on what some deemed an unnecessary detour (it wasn’t—the entire Canto Bight sequence serves to thematically deepen both Finn’s and Rose’s characters and strengthen their resolve), some fans got completely out of hand on social media. They attacked Tran directly, because they didn’t like the movie, because they didn’t like Rose, because they didn’t like women or people of color in their beloved Star Wars. It was ridiculous, disgusting, and uncalled for, and it drove Tran—an absolutely delightful person—to leave social media altogether.
Now, Tran is ready to speak out. The actress penned a column in the New York Times today, discussing not just the harassment she received, but her own experience growing up as an Asian-American, feeling marginalized at every turn, and feeling like her heritage and her culture needed to be erased in order for her to truly find acceptance.
It’s a fantastic, heartbreaking piece and I highly suggest you simply go to the New York Times and read the whole thing. But if you must, here are a couple of highlights.
Tran begins by explaining that the issue “wasn’t their words,” but that she started to believe them—confirming every terrible thought she ever had growing up as a woman and person of color:
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 goes on to discuss how her feelings were directly related to how she had been taught to feel:
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. I had been told and retold this by everyone: by the media, by Hollywood, by companies that profited from my insecurities, manipulating me so that I would buy their clothes, their makeup, their shoes, in order to fill a void that was perpetuated by them in the first place.
Now, Tran says she feels a resolve to be the change she wishes to see in the world:
I am not the first person to have grown up this way. This is what it is to grow up as a person of color 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.
I want to live in a world where children of color 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. I want to live in a world where people of all races, religions, socioeconomic classes, sexual orientations, gender identities and abilities are seen as what they have always been: human beings.
This is the world I want to live in. And this is the world that I will continue to work toward.
Tran’s closing lines are, well, just kind of beautiful:
You might know me as Kelly.
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.
This terrific statement comes on the heels of the smashing success of Crazy Rich Asians, at a time when critics and fans are raving about the Netflix romcom To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and in a world where Black Panther has still grossed more money domestically than Marvel’s super-hit Avengers: Infinity War. Change is here. Erasure is unacceptable. More diverse storytellers means more diverse stories, and that’s a win for humankind regardless of race. Kudos to Loan for her bravery, resilience, and resolve.