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For the first time since she quit Instagram in June, Star Wars actress Kelly Marie Tran has spoken out about her experiences with online harassment. In an eloquent article published by the New York Times, she wrote about the lifelong impact of racism as the child of Vietnamese immigrants in America, and how The Last Jedi backlash led her to come back stronger than ever.
“It wasn’t their words, it’s that I started to believe them,” wrote Tran. When racist Star Wars fans started harassing her online, it brought back memories of how her Vietnamese heritage inspired bullying and disrespect when she was younger. She writes about how her family adopted American names to blend in, and how she internalized the racist messages she heard in daily life.
“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 only beautiful 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.”
As an actress, Tran is particularly conscious of how pop culture represents Asian people in America. She writes about how TV and movies taught her that she “only existed in the background of their stories, doing their nails, diagnosing their illnesses, supporting their love interests—and perhaps the most damaging—waiting for them to rescue me.”
But despite the harassment that drove her off social media, Tran is aware of her impact as a role model in Star Wars. She knows how important Rose Tico is to a generation of fans, and she’s aware of her growing power as an Asian American star in Hollywood.
“I am the first woman of color to have a leading role in a Star Wars movie,” she writes. “My real name is Loan. And I am just getting started.” Instead of being driven away by harassment, she’s returning with a newfound determination.
H/T to The New York Times
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor