Being A Star Wars Fan While Black: The Dark (And Toxically Racist, Sexist) Side Of Fandom

<<enter caption here>> at Orange County Convention Center on April 14, 2017 in Orlando, Florida.

Being A Star Wars Fan While Black: The Dark (And Toxically Racist, Sexist) Side Of Fandom

Dehumanizing the “other” is a time-honored American tradition.

Published June 11, 2018

Written by Keith Murphy

Hello. My name is Keith L. Murphy. And I’m a functioning Star Wars STAN. My euphoric addiction to George Lucas’ transformative, intense and at times absurdly earnest space opera began in 1977. I was around 6 when the adventures of future Jedi knight Luke Skywalker and his fight to uphold the light side of the Force against Darth Vader—the ultimate baddie and master of the dark side of the Force—pretty much made me a believer. My fandom exploded to serious levels after my late, beloved pops, Charles Maddox, took me to the theater to witness Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back. Following that transcendent moment, I begged my mom for every Star Wars-related toy that I could conceivably get my hands on: the Death Star Space Station, the original Millennium Falcon, the X-Wing Fighter, and a plethora of action figures, including the ONLY Black character in the Star Wars universe (at the time), Lando Calrissian

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I just knew I was the only South Side kid living in Chicago’s Ida B. Wells projects with the complete bag. Somehow Mary Murphy made miracles.  

 

As I came of age and discovered girls, Prince, and hip-hop (in that order), I never let go of my Star Wars obsessions. I was now part of a rabid, extended global family. I ate up the entire Star Wars canon. I was aware that Han Solo shot first; that Princess Leia could handle a blaster far better than her light saber wielding bro; that Boba Fett was the illest; C-3PO and R2-D2 were low-key the greatest comedy team in film history not named Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder; Return of the Jedi’s Luke was a certified bad ass; puppet Yoda > CGI Yoda; Jar Jar Binks sucked; and 2005’s Revenge of the Sith was the best out of all the early laughable prequels. 

But over the years, as a Black man, I have also discovered just how brazenly toxic some Star Wars fanatics can truly be. It was a sobering reality that once again reared its ugly head when Star Wars actress Kelly Marie Tran deleted all posts on her Instagram account after reportedly being bombarded for months by racist and misogynistic social media comments, often times targeting her Vietnamese-American heritage. The bubbly newcomer, who starred as the all-heart Rose Tico in 2017’s The Last Jedi, did however leave one telling message: “Afraid, but doing it anyway.” 

The bold harassment has spilled over to Twitter. A troll calling himself Supreme Leader Jerry posted a Gif of a young Anakin Skywalker on his pod racer straight from the deservedly maligned Episode 1: The Phantom Menace mouthing the words, “It’s working, It’s working!” 

When Last Jedi director Rian Johnson jumped in to take up for Tran (“You know the difference between not liking a movie and hatefully harassing a woman so bad she had to get off social media. And you know which of those two we’re talking about here”), the response from some Star Wars die hards was troubling. “Critique and showing dislike against something is 'trolling'? Good tactic. Whatever makes you sleep at night,” responded a fan. Nice. 

And while there has been legitimate critical analysis of the mostly positively received Last Jedi on sites like Rotten Tomatoes, where the film currently boasts an impressive 91 percent rating, a flurry of reviews are littered with dog whistle language, including well-worn Alternative Right-fueled terms like “social justice warrior politics.”

Along with Tran, Daisy Ridley, who has taken on the lead role of Jedi savior Rey in the last three Star Wars sequels, has also experienced her fair share of online abuse from knuckle dragging antagonists struggling to come to terms that big budget sci-fi heroes can be women. 

 

at Star Wars: The Last Jedi Premiere at The Shrine Auditorium on December 9, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

And it’s especially hard out here for Black Star Wars fans. There was the time a small but very vocal contingent of prejudiced white a--holes threatened to boycott Star Wars: The Force Awakens after John Boyega was cast as Black stormtrooper turned Rebel hero Finn. He gracefully dismissed the chorus of hate in a New York Times interview stating, “To get into a serious dialogue with people who judge a person based on the melanin in their skin? They’re stupid, and I’m not going to lose sleep over people.” Boyega is a better man than this kid. 

Of course, none of this should be especially shocking. If the angry victimhood era of Gamergate and President Donald Trump has taught us anything, it’s that dehumanizing the “other” is a time-honored American tradition. It’s easy to be sucked into believing that just because Donald Glover has received raving, scene-stealing reviews for his effortlessly cool turn as Lando in this year’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, that doesn’t mean you won’t get hit with the N-word in a Galaxy far, far away. 

Even in the supposedly more nuanced, logical world of Star Trek, hate is always around the corner. Sci-fi nerds and superhero enthusiasts (remember when they questioned whether Black Panther, Marvel’s first Black comic book hero, was deserving of his own film before T’Challa set box office records?) are not immune to the poisonous effects of racial and patriarchal orthodoxy. 

As Star Wars and other “evolved” story telling vehicles continue to proudly celebrate an inclusive world where skin color, gender and sexuality are mere afterthoughts, some fans have to hold up their end of the bargain. 

Of course, if they wish to continue to embrace hate there’s always the philosophical take of Star Wars OG Mark Hamill: “What’s not to love? #GetALifeNerds.” 

And Obi-Wan Kenobi says amen. 

 

Photo by Gerardo Mora/Getty Images for Disney Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney

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