Star Wars takes place in a galaxy far, far away, but for some reason, it keeps causing trouble here at home. In this case, the trouble began last Friday with the two-episode premiere of Obi-Wan Kenobi on Disney+. The series details some of the adventures of the title character, played once again by Ewan McGregor, during the period between Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.
One of the new characters is Reva, a member of the Inquisitorius, a group of Dark Side Jedi Hunters introduced in Star Wars: Rebels. Reva is the Third Sister of the Inquisitors — a hot-headed warrior who is particularly fixated on Obi-Wan. Played by Moses Ingram, Reva also happens to be a Black woman in the Star Wars universe.
While the response has been positive in general, on Monday, Ingram posted a video on Instagram where she shared images of some of the racist attacks she’s been flooded with since the show’s premiere. She noted that despite the presence of those who have stood up for her, there were “hundreds” of hateful messages in her inbox.
“I also see those of you out there who put on a cape for me, and that really does mean the world to me, because there’s nothing anybody can do about this,” she explained in the now-deleted video (mirrored here). “There’s nothing anybody can do to stop this hate, so I question what my purpose is to be in front of you, saying this is happening. I don’t really know. I think the thing that bothers me…is this feeling I’ve had inside of myself, which no one has told me, but this feeling that I’ve got to just shut up and take it. I just kind of gotta grin and bear it, and I’m not built like that. I really just wanted to come on and say thank you to the people who show up for me in the comments and places I’m not going to put myself. And to the rest of y’all… y’all weird.”
This isn’t the first time something similar has happened to a Star Wars actor. Following the sequel trilogy, John Boyega told GQ about the racism he experienced. “I’m the only cast member who had their own unique experience of that franchise based on their race,” he said, talking about the main sequel trilogy cast. “Nobody else in the cast had people saying they were going to boycott the movie because [they were in it]. Nobody else had the uproar and death threats sent to their Instagram DMs and social media, saying, ‘Black this and black that and you shouldn’t be a Stormtrooper.’ Nobody else had that experience. But yet people are surprised that I’m this way. That’s my frustration.”
Kelly Marie Tran felt the same after appearing in The Last Jedi and having her role minimized in The Rise of Skywalker. “If someone doesn’t understand me or my experience, it shouldn’t be my place to have to internalize their misogyny or racism or all of the above,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “Maybe they just don’t have the imagination to understand that there are different types of people living in the world.”
Tran returned to the Star Wars community at large this past weekend, when she appeared onstage at Star Wars Celebration 2022 to applause and cheers. We’ve done this before in the Star Wars fandom — the retroactive joy and acceptance following years of mistreatment. Ahmed Best, who plays Jar Jar Binks in the prequels, admitted he almost committed suicide over his treatment. Jake Lloyd left acting entirely at the age of 12 over harassment related to Star Wars.
In all these cases, the response from Lucasfilm, both before and after the Disney acquisition, has largely been silence. These actors are pushed into the limelight and left to fend for themselves, undergoing a mass of hate and harassment frequently of a racist or sexist nature. But even children — actual children — aren’t safe from the nonsense.
The Calvary Finally Arrives
This time, however, Lucasfilm actually made a statement. Perhaps the company felt emboldened after doing the same for Krystina Arielle, the host of the Star Wars: The High Republic show, earlier in the year. When Arielle started the show, she also received racist and sexist harassment, prompting Lucasfilm to make a statement of support on the official Star Wars Twitter account.
So perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising when the company defended Ingram on Twitter following her Instagram post. Not only was the defense rather clear cut, but the company also directly acknowledged the type of harassment she was receiving.
“We are proud to welcome Moses Ingram to the Star Wars family and excited for Reva’s story to unfold. If anyone intends to make her feel in any way unwelcome, we have only one thing to say: we resist,” said Lucasfilm on the Star Wars Twitter account. “There are more than 20 million sentient species in the Star Wars galaxy, don’t choose to be a racist.”
The company wasn’t alone, either. Obi-Wan Kenobi star and executive producer Ewan McGregor released a video showing his support of his fellow co-star later that day, saying he was “sickened to his stomach” to see the messages she had received. “We stand with Moses. We love Moses. And if you’re sending her bullying messages, you’re no Star Wars fan in my mind.”
Support also came from the other side of the fandom aisle. Anson Mount, who currently plays Captain Christopher Pike on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, offered his own statement as well.
“She is a singular talent and a recent addition to the Star Wars universe. She has also been targeted by racists pretending to be fans because her mere existence threatens a skewed, dystopian fantasy that selectively omits the likes of [Billy Dee Williams] and others. We, the Trek Family, have her back,” he said on Instagram. His statement was later retweeted on the official Star Trek Twitter account.
Should Lucasfilm have stood up for its actors in the past? Yes. Despite that past abdication of the company’s responsibility to protect its actors, it’s good to see it taking a stance now, while the harassment is happening. Will this stop the harassment? Of course not. But openly letting those malcontents know that the conduct isn’t welcome in the community is a great thing.
Why Do We Keep Doing This?
This isn’t just a Star Wars problem. Or a Star Trek one. It’s always one of the heads of the hydra that is fandom. People of color, LGBTQ folks, and women have always been a part of these communities. I myself have been a fan of Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel, DC, and more geek culture pillars for years.
Due to a general grave absence of diversity in mainstream storytelling, marginalized folks are understandably excited to see themselves represented in the media they love. For a long time, Lando was it for me — he was one of the first times I had gotten to see myself in some of the media I loved. Then came Mace Windu, then Sisko in Deep Space Nine — every addition was like another drink of water, just a little more mana from heaven. I was dead psyched when the trailer for The Force Awakens showed Finn igniting that lightsaber, and disappointed the character got pushed to the back of the trilogy. And we Black dudes still have it better in media representation than some other folks!
People want to be in their favorite media. They want to wield lightsabers, command starships, wield magic, and put on bright costumes and punch villains. They also don’t want to just be perfect shining heroes. They want to be villains. They want to be messy, duplicitous, backstabbing, and more. They want to see themselves in all ways in their media.
Reva is just one vector of that for folks. She is an Inquisitor, a Dark Side user driven by passion, anger, and rage. That’s what they do; that’s why the Rule of Two existed. Darth Maul survived in The Clone Wars purely on rage and madness. Asajj Ventress was a loose cannon for most of that same series. Kylo Ren was a broken whiny boy. In the comics, Darth Vader spends half of his time planning to betray the Emperor, and the latter attacks him at random just to see if he’s still got it. Palpatine is a petty dick, from top to bottom. This is the text, not the subtext! The Sith are monsters and can only work with each other on a limited basis. Why should Reva be different?
Why does Rick Riordan have to defend casting Leah Jeffries, a young Black woman, as Annabeth Chase in an adaptation of his own property, Percy Jackson? Why does Neil Gaiman have to explain why he felt Gwendoline Christie was a good choice for Lucifer in the upcoming Sandman series? Why does Russell T. Davies have to justify his casting of Ncuti Gatwa as the new Doctor in Doctor Who?
Properties change and characters will shift. Some of those changes will work, and some won’t. But when it doesn’t, the problem is rarely the inclusion of a variety of folks in the work — that’s just reflecting the world in front of us.
Fandoms should internalize the hopeful themes of the universes they love because if they did, they’d probably be kinder, gentler, and more inclusive. Alas, people aren’t always like fiction. I guess the only option is to fight on.