Kelly Marie Tran's Beautiful Response To Online Harassment Is A Glimpse At The Real Future Of Hollywood
Kelly Marie Tran made history when she became the first woman of color to land a lead role in a Star Wars film. Her portrayal of Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi in 2017 was an inspiration to countless Asian-American women and girls who, up until that point, hadn't seen themselves represented nearly enough in the franchise and in Hollywood as a whole.
Though Tran's performance should have been celebrated, dozens of Star Wars fans tried to diminish her talent by posting racist and sexist comments on online forums and her personal Instagram page. Tran subsequently deleted her Instagram page in June, following nearly a year of online harassment. Now, two months later, Tran is taking back her power and shutting down trolls in a powerful open letter in The New York Times.
Throughout the piece, Tran asserts that she has always been made to feel self-conscious about her Vietnamese heritage. The recent harassment she received, she wrote, made her question if she would ever be good enough in a society that consistently tells white people they are more valuable and more desirable than people of color.
"I had been brainwashed into believing that my existence was limited to the boundaries of another person's approval," she wrote in the Times op-ed. "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."
To see so many so-called Star Wars fans reiterate her fears made her feel like she would never be enough. But after a lifetime of enduring racism from both mean-spirited and well-intentioned people (yes, you can be racist even if you "mean well"), Tran has had enough, and she's taking back her power.
"These are the thoughts that run through my head every time I pick up a script or a screenplay or a book," she wrote. "I know the opportunity given to me is rare. I know that I now belong to a small group of privileged people who get to tell stories for a living, stories that are heard and seen and digested by a world that for so long has tasted only one thing. I know how important that is. And I am not giving up."
Tran concluded her piece on an incredibly powerful note.
"You might know me as Kelly," she 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."
By reclaiming her birth name, Tran is giving a glorious middle finger to the industry and society that have tried to hold her down and tell her she's not worthy for decades. She's fighting against centuries of discrimination and hatred that have plagued the very fibers that have stitched together the American landscape.
It's time Hollywood recognized that films predominately led by people of color aren't just culturally imperative; they're also incredibly lucrative. In its first five days, Crazy Rich Asians made $34 million at the box office, making it one of the most successful PG-13 comedies over the past decade, according to The New York Times. As if raking in the big bucks wasn't enough of an indicator that this film is fire, it also boasts a 98% score from Rotten Tomatoes.
Last year, Girls Trip, the hilarious comedy starring four Black actresses, blew critics away when it made $31 million in its opening weekend. Ultimately, the movie made more than $100 million, making it the highest-earning comedy of 2017. These films are proof that women of color are box office gold, creating and starring in movies that people truly want to see.
By penning this essay, Tran is unapologetically defying the oppressive lifestyle forced upon people of color. The role she's taken on as one of the leaders of the movement for more diversity and inclusion, though wildly underpaid and under-appreciated, is her most important one yet.