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The 29-year-old star, whose parents moved to the U.S. from Vietnam before she was born, has written a moving piece for the New York Times about her experience as “a person of color in a white-dominated world.”
“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 wrote of being marginalized as an Asian-American woman. “This is what it is to grow up as a person of color in a white-dominated world.
“This is what it is to be a woman in a society that has taught its daughters that we are only worthy of love if we are deemed attractive by its sons. This is the world I grew up in, but not the world I want to leave behind.”
Although she doesn’t directly refer to the trolls who bombarded her Instagram account with hateful messages, it’s clear that she was deeply affected by their missives.
“It wasn’t their words, it’s that I started to believe them,” added Tran, who portrayed Rose Tico in The Last Jedi and will appear in the upcoming Episode IX.
“Their words seemed to confirm what growing up as a woman and a person of color already taught me: that I belonged in margins and spaces, only valid as a minor character in their lives and stories.”
Tran, whose acting resume before The Last Jedi consisted of a number of short films and comedy videos, deleted all her Instagram posts back in June, even though she had 189,000 followers at the time. A so-called “anti-Disney” group later claimed responsibility for the online abuse campaign.
Fellow Star Wars actor Daisy Ridley, who plays lead character Rey in the new trilogy, also quit social media after receiving toxic messages.
“Their words reinforced a narrative I had heard my whole life: that I was ‘other,’ that I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t good enough, simply because I wasn’t like them,” Tran continued.
“I believed those words, those stories, carefully crafted by a society that was built to uphold the power of one type of person — one sex, one skin tone, one existence.”
Thankfully, Hollywood rallied around Tran by calling out the trolls on Twitter.
Tran wrote that she has since come to a realization that it’s not her with the problem — it’s the system. She’s now ready to start fighting back.
“I had been brainwashed into believing that my existence was limited to the boundaries of another person’s approval. I had been tricked into thinking that my body was not my own, that I was only beautiful 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.”
Tran also talks about her parents adopting American names “so it was easier for others to pronounce,” a change which she describes as “a literal erasure of culture” that left her “aching to the core.” This adds powerful weight to her sign-off:
“You might know me as Kelly. 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.”
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