Kelly Marie Tran of Star Wars Left Instagram and Fanboy Culture May Be to Blame

We’re *so* over toxic masculinity in sci-fi fandoms

Victoria Christie
Kelly Marie Tran, playing Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, looks serious as she steers a spaceship

(Photo: Jonathan Olley/Lucasfilm Ltd)

Here we go again: After months of racist and misogynist harassment on social media, Kelly Marie Tran, who plays Rose Tico in The Last Jedi, just deleted all of her Instagram posts. On June 5, Tran took down her feed but kept her account active, writing in her Instagram bio, “afraid, but doing it anyway” accompanied by a lion emoji.

We don’t know for sure why Tran left Instagram, but since The Last Jedi  was released in December 2017, she has been inundated with racist and sexist commentary. And she’s been targeted elsewhere online, too. Alt-right YouTuber Paul Ray Ramsey posted a super racist tweet comparing Tran’s character to Battlestar Galactica’s Number Eight, played by Grace Park, where he both fat shames Tran and implies that all Asians should look alike. (There was a backlash, but at press time, he hadn’t deleted the tweet.) Tran’s character’s bio on Star Wars’ fan page Wookieepedia was also altered to include racist language, but it was soon taken down by Fandom, the company behind the website.

Sci-fi fan culture isn’t welcoming to women, especially women of colour

As one of the first woman of colour to land a leading role in a major movie franchise, it’s (sadly) not shocking that she was the victim of harassment from Internet trolls. This type of abuse is intersectional in nature—it’s not just about gender, it’s also about race, sexuality, religion and ability. In fact, between December 2016 and March 2018, Amnesty International conducted research about women’s experiences on social media; it highlighted, “the particular experiences of violence and abuse on Twitter against women of colour, women from ethnic or religious minorities, lesbian, bisexual or transgender women, non-binary individuals and women with disabilities, to demonstrate the intersectional nature of abuse on the platform.”

But Tran’s departure from Instagram also speaks volumes about the larger issue of women’s acceptance in sci-fi fan culture. Daisy Ridley, one of Trans’ co-stars who plays Rey in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, had a similar experience last year when she posted about anti-gun violence. She later took down her Instagram due to the never-ending online harassment and said that social media can be toxic. “It’s not good for me, personally,” Ridley told Glamour in her 2017 cover story. “I’m just not equipped for it.”

Some Star Wars fans took to Twitter to express their frustrations with these fans’ hypocrisy when the Star Wars franchise is all about the triumph of good over evil. And actor Olivia Munn made a similar point in a statement on her Instagram story, saying, “I think it’s interesting how her character Rose Tico in #TheLastJedi allowed us to see how widespread the First Order’s venom has become, reaching out to the farthest points of the galaxy. And now today, Kelly is showing us how poisonous people can corrode so many things right here on Earth.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time a sci-fi actor has taken a break from social media due to racist Internet trolls. In 2016, Ghostbusters’ Leslie Jones left Twitter because of a string of racist tweets condemning her participation in the all-female remake of the 1984 sci-fi flick.

Not every “fandom” (the social space populated by a TV show or movie’s fans) is unwelcoming to women—and some fans are actively working to make their fan cultures more inclusive. But in general, misogyny is common in sci fi fandoms, like Star Wars or Ghostbusters. Similar to female sports fans, women in sci-fi fandoms are constantly questioned about their knowledge of the genre. They are either sexualized, criticized or not taken seriously because of their passion for sci-fi. To be accepted into the fandom, female fans have to go to great lengths to prove how much of a fan they are. If this isn’t utter bullshit, I don’t know what is.

Non-white actors have historically faced this kind of vitriol, too, but as movies themselves include more female characters and become more diverse, it has become an even bigger problem. Male fans often fetishize or criticize POC actors based on their appearance.

Toxic masculinity is entrenched in sci-fi fandoms

Though there have been female fans (including women of colour) since forever, the white dudes who tend to make up the bulk of sci-fi fan populations still feel very protective of their fandom—they don’t want to share their fandom with women, let alone women of colour. That’s why greater representation in sci-fi films, like Tran in Star Wars and Jones in Ghostbusters, rankles; these men feel like their masculinity is being threatened if women of colour show up on their screens and in their fandoms. According to them, sci-fi fan culture is one of the only sacred spaces where masculinity can thrive without the threat of women taking over. (I know right? I couldn’t even type that with a straight face.)

Plus, with this new era of diversity in sci-fi and in society, some argue that alt-right men are taking the opportunity to reclaim Star Wars’ fan culture as a white male space. As Amy Zimmerman wrote in her op-ed for The Daily Beast about Star Wars’ toxic masculine culture, “they’ve spread their social media wings, starting Twitter campaigns and harassment initiatives in the hopes of ensuring that white men’s voices are finally heard.”

Sci-fi fan culture needs to change

There are, however, online communities on the fringes of the Internet where “female geeks” can openly share their sci-fi obsessions without the risk of harassment, like Geek Feminism Wiki and podcast Women at Warp. So the next step should be bringing these communities into the mainstream, so women can be celebrated, not harassed, for being sci-fi fans—or the actors bringing these interesting, diverse characters to the big screen.


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