Star Wars’ Racism Response Is A Start (But It Can Do More)

Moses Ingram is the latest example of a Star Wars actor receiving racist comments online, but even with Star Wars officially backing her, more can be done to prevent this in the future. Ingram stars as Reva the Third Sister in the Obi-Wan Kenobi series. The actress revealed on her Instagram a series of racist messages sent to her. Contrary to the belief that the critiques were about her acting or character, the hundreds of comments directly referred to her race, complexion, and more.,Sadly, the toxic portion of Star Wars fans is no exception to racism–so much so that Lucasfilm expected Ingram to deal with some confrontations. The studio informed the actress that she might face harassment and, when she did, to inform them when it happened. After Ingram revealed the harassment, the official Star Wars social media accounts defended the actress. One statement read, “There are more than 20 million sentient species in the Star Wars galaxy, don’t choose to be a racist.” Another message told fans, “If anyone intends to make her feel in any way unwelcome, we have only one thing to say: we resist.“,Related: Why Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score Is So Low,Lucasfilm expecting such a reaction from its fanbase is indicative of a bigger problem with Star Wars. Both sentiments in defense of the Obi-Wan Kenobi actress were well-intentioned. Still, neither statement’s tone seemed adequate to rebuke the bigoted comments. It wasn’t the time to be cute or stay on brand, though it should be noted star Ewan McGregor also sent a message of support that was far more direct. If the studio knew this harassment would happen, it should have taken more proactive action rather than waiting for the actress to reveal the traumatizing messages; minority actors shouldn’t have to carry that trauma and burden. Far more than dealing with the fallout of recasting Star Wars characters, Lucasfilm has to be proactive with harassment. Given the franchise’s history with its minority actors being harassed and facing nasty attacks, a new approach is necessary.,Toxic behavior in fandom is nothing new. Social media has made the smallest section of a fanbase appear to be the loudest regarding such hostile conduct. The prime targets for most attacks are minorities, often aimed at one’s sexual orientation, gender, and/or race. Because of the immediacy of social media, a number of the more contemporary, minority Star Wars actors have faced harassment similar to Moses Ingram.,John Boyega was one of the more well-known victims of targeted racist attacks from Star Wars fans. Online outrage about Boyega being a Black stormtrooper swirled before Star Wars: The Force Awakens even debuted. The most irrational fear was that the Star Wars film was aiding in “white genocide” by having a featured character be Black and a stormtrooper, and most complained that there was no way a stormtrooper in a fantasy sci-fi series could be Black. When asked about such critics, Boyega dismissed them and tried to draw attention to the character’s story arc instead. Unfortunately, Lucasfilm had little to no public response in support of Boyega during that time.,Only a few years later, online trolls began a similar harassment campaign against Kelly Marie Tran. For example, the Vietnamese-American actress, who portrayed Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, had her character’s Wookieepedia page (a fan-run online encyclopedia about Star Wars) edited to include several racist comments; the character’s name and homeworld were replaced with derogatory Asian terms. Kelly Marie Tran wasn’t intimidated by The Last Jedi, but she endured so much harassment for months that she eventually deleted much of her social media. Director Rian Johnson came to her defense, as did her co-stars John Boyega and Mark Hamil.,Related: Star Wars: Everything We Know About Rose’s Original Rise of Skywalker Role,After being announced the new host of The High Republic Show, Krystina Arielle, who is Black, came under attack from more online trolls sending offensive, racist comments. In January 2021, the official Star Wars account had to, yet again, state support for its host. The studio sternly said, “We do not stand for bullying and racism.” Arielle’s situation only preceding Moses Ingram’s harassment by a year gives the impression that issuing statements rebuking racism isn’t enough. The reality is that Star Wars has inadvertently created this toxic portion of its fandom itself. There is a deeper issue with Star Wars and how it treats its minority characters.,The 11 live-action Star Wars films’ writers and directors have all been white. Moreover, those films have always been white-centered narratives. From Luke Skywalker, Anakin Skywalker, Rey Palpatine-Skywalker, and even the two spinoff Star Wars films, there have only been leading white protagonists. Obviously, there’s nothing racist about telling a story from a white person’s perspective. However, if that is the only perspective presented for over four decades, then it’s no wonder some racist-minded people would feel comfortable with and emboldened by the franchise. Whenever a new minority character is highlighted to disrupt the status quo, it triggers the toxic side of the fanbase who see the inclusion as an attack.,Star Wars does include several notable minority actors in various roles, but they don’t get the visibility and attention they deserve. Darth Vader is voiced by legendary Black actor James Earl Jones, despite being depicted as a white male. Billy Dee Williams became the first Black actor with a feature role in The Empire Strikes Back but was still regulated to a secondary character. Samuel L. Jackson, who played Mace Windu, was the first Black Jedi featured and was killed off in a way from which other characters have easily returned. Currently, no live-action depiction has helped flesh out Windu’s intriguing past or what makes him tick. The Rise of Skywalker failed Rose Tico with a severely diminished role than her debut in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Given the backlash she received from abusive fans, the reduced role seemed as though Star Wars had acquiesced to the racists. Thandiwe Newton debuted in Solo: A Star Wars Story and publicly criticized the film for making a “big mistake” in killing off the first Black woman to have a significant role in Star Wars. Newton said that her character was not originally supposed to die in the film’s first act, but the change happened during filming.,Related: Mace Windu’s Star Wars Return Feels More Likely Than Ever – Is That Good?,One of the most notorious mishandlings of a minority character was that of Finn. John Boyega’s character was promoted as a potential Force-sensitive character. Finn’s Star Wars future seemed pretty hopeful.  Not only that, but the impression many had was that he would be more of a co-star with Daisy Ridley’s character, Rey. Critics have pointed out the blatant racism in the marketing for his character seen in the movie posters advertised in Asian markets. Finn’s image was shrunken down to the point where he was barely visible compared to having his face more clearly shown in U.S. marketing. Like Finn’s marketing, his character was reduced to a supporting role. Boyega called out the franchise and even called producer Kathleen Kennedy about the issue. Most minority characters in Star Wars have been cast as supporting characters, and Star Wars has yet to elevate them.,While Star Wars has its fair share of issues, progress is still being made. The current and upcoming Disney+ Star Wars shows are making far better strides for visible diversity. Diego Luna (Andor), Temuera Morrison (The Book of Boba Fett) and Pedro Pascal (The Mandalorian) are all headlining their own series. It was also announced that Amandla Stenberg (The Acolyte) and Donald Glover (Lando) will both be cast as leads in their upcoming Disney+ series. One of the best things the shows are doing is hiring more POC as directors and writers for the episodes. The streaming shows are headed in the right direction, while the films are playing a bit of catch-up.,Taika Waititi is slotted to direct and co-write the next Star Wars film, which would make him the first person of color in both categories for the franchise. J.D. Dillard would follow up right behind Waititi’s Star Wars film as Dillard has also been slated to direct a movie in the future. It’s vitally meaningful to have a more inclusive set of creatives behind the Star Wars films. The various perspectives could impact the storytelling in different ways that could diffuse the negativity harbored by any toxic fans online.,It’s important to understand that when it comes to diversity and inclusion, it’s not merely a numbers game or trying to meet an arbitrary quota. Quantity does matter, but the quality of the roles matters as well. It’s great to see Rosario Dawson finally play the lead role of Ahsoka Tano in her own series. However, she’s going to be covered in orange makeup and presented as an alien. Audiences need to see themselves to feel represented, and true inclusion offers a sense of pride when people see their perspectives and stories from an authentic place. At the same time, it’s essential for white viewers to see all types of POC in significant roles. It de-normalizes the sense of whiteness being the status quo for a galaxy filled with all types of beings. The more people see a diverse set of characters in Star Wars with strong story arcs, the less encouraged bigots will feel to attack others in the franchise.,Related: Everything We Know About The Acolyte, Star Wars’ High Republic Show,The harassment of Obi-Wan Kenobi star Moses Ingram will not be the last time trolls attack. The hope is that it lessens and eventually stops. In order to really make a difference with toxic trolls online, Star Wars must make a commitment to actually show their minority human characters in central roles.  Star Wars should start making their leads in movies more diverse, never be compromised in their marketing, and continue to trickle down in other mediums. Couple that with strong repudiations of bigotry and continued support of their actors, Star Wars can be the beautiful sci-fi reality the majority of fans believe it to be.,Next: The Third Sister Gave Darth Vader His Cleverest Idea In A New Hope,Obi-Wan Kenobi releases new episodes Fridays on Disney+.