If you’ve spent literally any time on the internet interacting with fans of pretty much any genre franchise, like Ghostbusters, Star Trek, or Star Wars, then you know that what begins as an impassioned debate can quickly descend into hostile, vitriolic trolling.
At some point over the past few weeks, actress Kelly Marie Tran, who played Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, deleted all of her Instagram posts for reasons that have not been explained. io9 has reached out to Tran’s representatives for comment about what happened but as of publishing, they’ve not returned our calls. Multiple reports are alleging that it might have been in response to racist, misogynist trolling from the Star Wars fandom, reports themselves based off of an as-yet unverified tweet from a fan account that spread quickly on social media.
Regardless of the specifics reasons for Tran’s disappearance from Instagram, the fact remains that groups of fans targeting specific people for harassment is a very real problem that’s not likely to go away soon unless people get serious about addressing it head-on.
This afternoon, The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson took to his own Twitter account to speak about his personal (and overwhelmingly positive) experience with the community:
In response to Johnson’s initial tweet, a number of people came out of the woodwork to argue that fans who had come after Tran were merely trying to voice valid critiques of the Star Wars film she’s been in. Johnson, who again, is not new to this kind of thing, wasted no time in calling out that line of “reasoning” as the straw man that it is:
Johnson has dealt with more than his fair share of loud, angry harassment from fans, and so his faith in the rest of Star Wars’ massive community is heartening. But as a person who’s in a unique position of power with regard to Star Wars, Johnson, like other franchise directors and studio executives can and should feel more than comfortable telling fans not to be shitty to one another.
The contingent of fans who claim that the inclusion of more women, people of color, and queer people are ruining Hollywood is probably very small in reality. But that doesn’t change the fact that these people feel emboldened to go after those they don’t like and attempt to make their lives a living hell. There are countless numbers of “good” fans who spend plenty of time explaining why diversity is ultimately making genre franchises stronger and more narratively interesting, but—even together—their voices don’t have nearly the same kind of reach as people like Johnson’s do.
This is why it’s important now more than ever for prominent creators to just straight up call people out on their blatant bigotry.
There’s the idea that explicitly addressing a fandom’s bad behavior could have the unintended effect of backfiring and ultimately end up hurting a movie’s bottom line. But by ignoring it completely, studios (or other entities) send the message to the rest of the fandom that the abuses fans are suffering at the hand of their peers is not a concern.
Yes, there are plenty more Star Wars fans out there that identify with the Resistance (which, you know, is kind of the overall message of the franchise) as opposed to the First Order, and they will continue to love and care about Star Wars for years to come. But there will always be fans who would rather act in bad faith than accept that Star Wars isn’t only for them. It would be in Lucasfilm and Disney’s best interest to make it crystal clear that they don’t support or condone that reprehensible behavior.