The Star Wars fandom's racism problem
Moses Ingram, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and ongoing racist toxicity in the Star Wars community
The Star Wars franchise is defending one of its leads against racist abuse, something that has become a recurring problem for the series. Here's everything you need to know:
What's going on with Moses Ingram?
Ingram plays the main villain in the new Star Wars show Obi-Wan Kenobi, a Jedi hunter named Reva. After the series' debut, the actress, who is Black, revealed on Instagram she's been bombarded with "hundreds" of racist and threatening messages, with one telling her "you're [sic] days are numbered" and another using the N-word.
Ingram's performance has drawn largely positive reviews, though some viewers have voiced criticism of her character. But even before the series came out, certain fans were already targeting Ingram online. One YouTube video released prior to the series premiere claimed Lucasfilm was "hiding behind diversity," using a racist slur in the thumbnail. Lucasfilm evidently saw the backlash coming, as Ingram told The Independent the studio warned her to prepare for racist abuse.
Have other Star Wars actors faced this kind of backlash?
This sort of abuse has plagued the Star Wars community for years. But it has especially ramped up since 2015 as Lucasfilm strived to add greater diversity to the franchise with more women and people of color in lead roles.
John Boyega, for one, faced racist fan backlash after being cast as Finn, a former Stormtrooper, in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. "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,'" Boyega later told GQ.
Kelly Marie Tran then joined the series in The Last Jedi, a divisive sequel whose proponents and detractors spent years fighting online. There were many legitimate complaints, but a subset of fans seemed focused on pushing back against Lucasfilm's more diverse cast, and much of the intense hatred was directed at Tran. In 2018, she quit social media due to online harassment.
This toxicity has grown more prevalent with the rise of social media, but even before Twitter, some actors in the Star Wars prequel trilogy had a similar experience. Ahmed Best, who played Jar Jar Binks, has said the backlash he faced was so intense, he considered suicide, and series stars Jake Lloyd, Hayden Christensen, and Daisy Ridley were also met with fan blowback.
It hasn't even just been limited to Star Wars actors. In 2021, Lucasfilm launched a YouTube show focused on a new series of Star Wars books, and the host, Krystina Arielle, faced racist online abuse.
What has Disney done to address this?
For years, Disney-owned Lucasfilm was criticized for doing little to push back against the toxic corners of the Star Wars fandom and for not, in particular, being more publicly supportive of Boyega and Tran. Then, when Tran's character was sidelined in 2019's The Rise of Skywalker, it created the perception that the studio was giving into the backlash. Lucasfilm was also slammed in 2015 when it was revealed Boyega's character was far smaller on the version of The Force Awakens' poster made for China.
Recently, though, Lucasfilm has grown more vocal in defending its stars. In 2021, the official Star Wars Twitter account released a statement supporting Arielle, saying, "We do not stand for bullying and racism." Similarly, Lucasfilm in May 2022 put out a statement supporting Ingram, telling fans, "There are more than 20 million sentient species in the Star Wars galaxy, don't choose to be a racist." Ewan McGregor, who plays Obi-Wan Kenobi and is widely beloved in the fanbase, even released a video telling anyone bullying Ingram that they're "no Star Wars fan in my mind."
One fan mused on Twitter that this response "should've been the standard since the beginning" but wondered "why there was no defense like this" for Boyega, Tran, or Best. The "time to correct the lack of support for Tran, Boyega, Best and co has passed," Amon Warmann wrote for I, "but it appears that lessons have been learnt and changes have been implemented." But NPR critic Eric Deggans argued Disney still isn't doing enough to support the people of color in Star Wars. "It is well past time for the companies which make billions from these media properties to take action before the racists do," Deggans said.
When Lucasfilm defends its talent in this way, it tends to spark both praise and additional backlash from those who perceive the statements to be directed at anyone critical of the characters or films themselves, or who don't see the racist bullying as a widespread problem. Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro accused Lucasfilm of "[slandering] everybody who doesn't like their content as racist."
Some on the right also argued Lucasfilm should have similarly defended The Mandalorian star Gina Carano against online attacks. In that case, the backlash was sparked by Carano's controversial post comparing conservatives to Jews in Nazi Germany, which led to her firing.
Is this kind of thing unique to Star Wars?
Toxicity surrounding diverse casting has been particularly prevalent in the Star Wars community, but it's far bigger than one franchise. Some past examples include backlash to the casting of a Black actress to play Rue in The Hunger Games and a Black actress to play Hermione in the stage show Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
In May 2022, a Disney+ adaptation of Percy Jackson also faced backlash after casting Leah Jeffries, a 12-year-old Black actress, as Annabeth Chase, a character described as white in the books. Author Rick Riordan condemned those "judging her appropriateness for this role solely and exclusively on how she looks," writing, "Friends, that is racism." He also said that "bullying and harassing a child online is inexcusably wrong."
Amazon's upcoming Lord of the Rings series The Rings of Power has also faced backlash over its more diverse cast, with some fans dismissing the show as "woke" as a result. Executive producer Lindsey Weber told Vanity Fair, "Tolkien is for everyone."