Vietnamese-American actress Kelly Marie Tran broke into the mainstream with a major role in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” last year. The fame emboldened fanboy trolls, whose racist onslaught ultimately pushed her off social media. She broke her internet silence and uplifted her identity in the face of oppression with an op-ed in The New York Times yesterday (August 21).
Without directly referencing the trolls, Tran admits to internalizing the racism and sexism that plagued her as a child:
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, valid only as a minor character in their lives and stories.
And those words awakened something deep inside me—a feeling I thought I had grown out of. The same feeling I had when at 9, I stopped speaking Vietnamese altogether because I was tired of hearing other kids mock me. Or at 17, when at dinner with my White boyfriend and his family, I ordered a meal in perfect English, to the surprise of the waitress, who exclaimed, “Wow, it’s so cute that you have an exchange student!”
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. And that feeling, I realize now, was, and is, shame, a shame for the things that made me different, a shame for the culture from which I came from. And to me, the most disappointing thing was that I felt it at all.
She says she only broke out of this spiral when she realized that she “had been lied to.” She now sees her career as a powerful tool to confront the narratives that push Asian-American women and other people of color into the margins:
I know the opportunity given to me is rare. I know that I now belong to a small group of privileged people who get to tell stories for a living, stories that are heard and seen and digested by a world that for so long has tasted only one thing. I know how important that is. And I am not giving up.
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.