• J.R. Zbornak

rose from the grave: the mistreatment of fans & characters of color

Updated: Apr 5

Diversity. It's a wonderful thing.

I love Star Wars more than anything else in the world. However, when it comes to diversity, it hasn't been the best. Sure we had Princess Leia, Lando Calrissian, Padmé Amidala, Mace Windu, and Bail Organa, but rarely were they used to their full potential. Leia was really the only major female character for decades, Lando was barely seen in Return of the Jedi until the final battle, and Padmé and Mace were killed off in the most unceremonious ways possible in Revenge of the Sith. Luckily, diversity in Star Wars has improved somewhat in recent years. While LGBTQ+ representation is still an incredibly long way to go, we'll keep working to make it happen.

The animated side of Star Wars has supplied women and characters of color with great major roles since 2008. Ahsoka Tano, Hera Syndulla, Sabine Wren, Tam Ryvora, and so many more have made a name for themselves as some of the most relatable and well rounded characters in the franchise's history. It was great to see diverse characters actually have full arcs the whole way through and weren't pushed aside or used for whatever random "girl" role the filmmakers needed.

The cast of Rogue One also provided much needed diversity, with the team consisting of mostly men of color and were led by a woman. Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor, Chirrut Îmwe, Baze Malbus, and Bodhi Rook proved in more ways than one that having a diverse cast of great characters is a powerful thing. And considering that Cassian is getting his own spin-off show for Disney+, Latinx fans stay winning.

Diversity really hit its strive in the franchise with the introductions of Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron. Making their debut in The Force Awakens, the three of them would usher in a new generation of heroics and legacy. From the moment audiences were introduced to the core 3, they have become beloved by fans and critics around the world. It doesn't hurt that Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Issac became household names over night.

You would think this would be a cause for celebration among everyone, but sadly it wasn't. Prior to the film's release, John Boyega, who plays Finn, was the subject of many racist online attacks. Many thought it was "Forced Diversity"and that it was unrealistic for there to be a black stormtrooper. For all these "real fans", none of them were smart enough to figure out that stormtroopers aren't clones. The racism only grew from there.

In The Last Jedi, we were introduced to 2 new characters of color; Rose Tico and DJ. While DJ remains a cult favorite in the fandom, Rose Tico was embraced by fans, mainly Asian fans who looked at her as a massive win for diversity on film. Kelly Marie Tran's performance was praised by critics, but like Boyega, Tran was the victim of a massive hate campaign. Tran was harassed far and wide on social media, mainly by white men who couldn't handle the idea of an Asian woman being in Star Wars. She was mocked and harassed for her gender, race, and her appearance. It's almost ironic that some people harassed Tran for having a larger body type than most Star Wars heroines, considering Carrie Fisher went through body issues of her own when she first played Princess Leia.

These "fans" will tell you that they don't care about Tran's gender or race, but rather they don't like her character. Normal fans would simply go on about their day, not engage in a harassment campaign and run off a young actress off social media. The same sort of outward racism occurred when it was rumored black actresses were being considered for a role in Episode IX. I once saw a comment of someone saying "I thought they learned their lesson." If that's not racism, I don't know what is.

The Rise of Skywalker, for lack of a better term, is divisive among fans. Some fans love it, some think it's ok, some think it's bad, some really don't like it. All of these thoughts and opinions are completely valid. One of the biggest points of contention is the treatment of the trilogy's five main characters. The revelation of Rey's true bloodline has received mixed responses, as has the fate of Ben Solo. However, the issues with the treatment of Finn and Rose's small amount of screentime have been unanimous for the most part. And then, there's Poe.

In the film, Poe is given a larger arc than he has in the first 2 movies, and even has the second highest amount of screentime of any character in The Rise of Skywalker, under Rey. Some fans have taken this fact as a personal slight at them and Ben Solo. If I had a republic credit for every tweet I've seen from Ben stans trying to diminish Poe's importance to the story, I'd be able to lead my own fleet of star destroyers. It's very disheartening to see people treat Poe like some kind of glorified extra. It often feels like that people think having a Latino in the franchise is some kind of insult. As much as I love Ben Solo, I don't like when people pretend he's the center of the universe and none of the characters who represent us can ever be more important than him any long than a minute. To say the fandom's treatment of Poe makes me feel sad and unwelcomed would be an understatement.

It's not just Poe who gets mistreated, as I mentioned, actors do as well. John Boyega to this day is the subject of racist attacks from the fandom. Earlier in the year, Boyega made a sexual joke about Rey, which didn't go well with some fans. While I 100% understand some people's grievances, it's odd that people who make graphic thirst tweets about Adam Driver and Pedro Pascal got so angry. Not to mention the incredibly awful treatment Boyega got when he expressed his disappointment with his role in The Last Jedi in the calmest way imaginable. Some apologized for their behavior toward Boyega, while others pretended that they were the heroes in the scenario.

Even recently, Boyega made a comedic reply to a fan who tagged in a backhanded complement about Finn and the Sequel Trilogy. Some responded harshly, saying Boyega should be "grateful" that people took the time out of their day to tweet at him. I don't want to get into it, but telling a person of color to just be quiet and accept the vitriol that comes his way is nothing short of problematic. Fans of color try to tell other fans (especially white fans) to be careful with the kind of terminology they use and the methods they use to criticize people of color, but alas it doesn't work. The life of being a fan of color is being treated like a second rate citizen and having your voices silenced by people who think they're the only ones who know what's like to be harassed, mocked, and ignored.

Now with all that out of the way, despite being a man of color, I still don't know what it's like to experience the kinds of misfortunes that women in fandom do. I'll never fully know what's it like to be needlessly challenged on your fandom with dumb questions. I'll never be accused of liking Star Wars just because of a man. I'll never know what it's like to get creepy DMs from random dudes who think they can be perverts because I'm attractive. There's experience in real life I will never know because of my gender. I have my own set of privileges that some don't have. There's some things I can do easier than others, as there are things white women can do easier than me. The goal of this article isn't to demonize white women or white people in general, but to shine a light on issues that some people only understand on a surface level. There's issues of people of different genders and races that I only understand on surface level, and that's ok. If your takeaway from this article is "THE REYLOS ARE ALL CRAZY RACISTS!" then you didn't heed my words. It would be irresponsible and dishonest to paint an entire community of the fandom (a community that is dominated by women) as racist, heartless monsters just because a select few step out of line. As I am a Reylo myself, the community doesn't need more people smearing them. My job today is one of education, not slander.

This is a fandom with people from different backgrounds, genders, nationalities, races, sexualities, and ages. Diversity is an unrivaled strength, and it should be maintained and protected at all cost. Fandom and social media will never be a utopia, and that's just something we're going to have to live it. A fandom without misogynists, racists, and other undesirables would be great, but we just have to work with what we have. I will try my hardest to try to be more understanding of other people's feelings and experiences, and I hope others will try to understand mine. The sooner we stop fighting with each other and focus on the bigger picture, we'd all be a lot happier. Whether you're a woman who sees herself in Rey and Ben, a woman of color who cherishes Rose and Jannah, or a man of color who holds Finn and Poe close to their hearts, there should be a place for you in the larger story. Because that's how we're going to win, not by fighting what we hate, but by saving what we love.

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