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Star Wars’ Kelly Marie Tran speaks out on the harassment that drove her off Instagram

“It wasn’t their words, it’s that I started to believe them.”

Kelly Marie Tran and John Boyega in Star Wars:  The Last Jedi Lucasfilm
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

Three months after she deleted all of her old Instagram posts, Star Wars actress Kelly Marie Tran is making her voice heard on a much bigger platform: the New York Times opinion section.

Tran wiped her Instagram clean at the beginning of June. At the time she didn’t say why, but there was widespread speculation that she was responding to months of racist harassment. Tran is the first woman of color to play a leading role in the Star Wars franchise, and the innovation of her inclusion led some “fans” to registered their vociferous objection by writing racial slurs like “Ching Chong” all over Tran’s Instagram and on the Wookiepedia page for her character, Rose.

That Tran’s Instagram presence was relentlessly positive and uplifting — “It’s OKAY to be imperfect,” she assured her followers in one characteristic post — only made the vitriol of the harassment more apparent and more disturbing.

This week, Tran spoke out for the first time about her harassment and her decision to delete all her Instagram posts. “It wasn’t their words, it’s that I started to believe them,” Tran explained in a first-person essay.

Over the course of the piece, Tran delves into the encounters she’s had throughout her life that taught her that, she says, “I was ‘other,’ that I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t good enough, simply because I wasn’t like them.”

She describes the time a waitress mistook her for a foreign exchange student when she went out for dinner with her white boyfriend. She talks about how she stopped speaking Vietnamese as a child because she didn’t want to deal with mockery from her peers, and about how her family adopted anglicized names, “so it was easier.”

For Tran, the harassment she faced after her appearance in Star Wars was just part of a larger story that she’s heard all her life, one that told her she would always be less-than. “For months, I went down a spiral of self-hate, into the darkest recesses of my mind, places where I tore myself apart, where I put their words above my own self-worth,” Tran writes.

But eventually, Tran says, she concluded that the story she’s been hearing all her life is a lie. She does belong at the center of the story, and her self-worth doesn’t depend on what other people say about her.

And now, she writes, she is committed to helping create a world “where children of color don’t spend their entire adolescence wishing to be white.” To that end, she considers it her duty to continue to take roles at the center of major franchises like Star Wars, so that children of color can see that our culture’s best stories belong to them, too.

At the end of the essay, Tran vows to stop erasing her heritage to please the culture that pushed her to stop speaking Vietnamese and to adopt an American name. “My real name is Loan,” she writes. “And I am just getting started.”

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