Actress, Kelly Marie Tran made her first major motion debut in 2017 as Rose Tico in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” As the first lead female character of color in Star Wars – a truly iconic series – she played more than just a role, she provided inspiration to future generations of minority or marginalized women in America.
Let’s just pause for a moment to address how important it is to have someone to look up to. Little girls, especially young women of color need these positive representations. They need to know that they can aspire to be whatever they want.
However the greatness of what Kelly represented in playing the character of Rose was overshadowed by a mass outpouring of hatred from the internet. Beyond critiquing her performance, Ms. Tran’s gender, age, and ethnicity were dragged into the mud.
Even with the support of her fellow cast-mates and iconic character actors like Mark Hamill showing support, Ms. Tran felt it necessary to remove herself from social media due to the extreme level of harassment.
She left a parting message in her bio on her Instagram page, “Afraid, but doing it anyway.”
Thankfully that was not the end.
On August 21st 2018 Kelly Marie Tran set the internet on fire with an emotional and well-written public response to the underlying issues in our society that empower trolls while devaluing women.
Classy and heartfelt, Ms. Tran writes to the New York Times:
“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…. 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.”
She speaks from a place of reflection, telling a story of how she grew up white-washing herself to be more palatable for the masses. How she feels shame for the world at large for creating an atmosphere of intolerance for differences. She explains how her parents changed their names, and how she herself stopped speaking her native language entirely due to the fact she was, “Tired of hearing other kids mock me.”
Her letter was an eye-opener. We often place celebrities on a pedestal and think of them being somehow immune to the problems of normal people. She takes us through the realities of the struggles she had to endure just to get where she was. Her celebrity status gives her the ability to speak with the voice of those who are still struggling with these very same issues.
Taking it a step further Ms. Tran’s words give readers a human connection to the reality of online harassment. It may happen on the internet, but the damaging effects of the words on the screen are painfully real.
Trolls hide behind anonymity. That is their power. Being completely detached from reality, they have the freedom to say what they want without having to look that person in the eye and see the damage they’ve done. Online harassment has become a serious problem over the last decade. It’s only getting worse, and fighting it is not simple.
Kelly could have fought back on their turf, replying to the hateful message she received, but on the internet, that only feeds the trolls.
Her response and timing was delivered with precision. She came back swinging with a narrative that sheds light on the problems which have given trolls their power for years. She’s masterfully scolds those who attempt to shame others for their differences.
“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.”
“I want to live in a world where women are not subjected to scrutiny for their appearance, or their actions, or their general existence.”
She stood up. She fought back. She showed the world that this kind of behavior should not, will not, be tolerated. Her powerful message is inspiring. Like a phoenix, she’s risen from the ashes and become a role model for young women.
“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…
Yes, I have been lied to. We all have.
…This is the world I grew up in, but not the world I want to leave behind.
My real name is Loan. And I am just getting started.”
You can’t see it right now, but I’m slow-clapping for Ms. Tran. Bravo! I’m proud of you for standing up and using your celebrity to give voice to problems that need to be addressed in our society.
I can’t wait to see what you do next!