What Fandom Racism Looks Like: The Star Wars Fandom (Part One, Probably)

Few fandoms fill me with the kind of anger that the Star Wars fandom does.

In fact, there are times where I’d go so far as to say that I hate it.

Times like Wednesday night.

When I got home Wednesday night from my first A.C.E concert, I was flying high. It’d been a great night with fantastic music and a stellar performance. Everywhere I looked, I saw fans loving their thing and loving that they got to share that thing with other fans. For a few blissful hours, I’d experienced fandom at its best: people coming together in joy and in celebration over something brilliant.

And then I was rudely reminded that the Star Wars fandom exists and that a whole huge chunk of the Rey/Kylo shippers who dominate much of the fandom discourse is made up of just really terrible people.

On December 11th, an interview with Star Wars male lead John Boyega went up on Variety Magazine’s website. At one point, John has the following exchange with interviewer Adam B. Vary:

There’s a sort of double edged sword there. You can get really great engagement. But then there’s what happened with Kelly [Marie Tran] about the small subset people who are very vocal and very negative, and having to navigate that.
Being in this position, you just understand the masses, how the masses think, you know. Through social media, we get to engage, we get to have fun. But at the same time, for those who are not mentally strong, you are weak to believe in every single thing that you read. That’s, you know, it is what it is. I don’t know, for me anyway, when I see that [backlash], I’m like, well, that’s actually not true. But no, it is actually not true. So it’s kind of like [shrugs] it is what it is. But to engage, to connect with the fans who otherwise wouldn’t get a day to day experience, especially during things like the press tour, and behind the scenes stuff, is always good.

The article went live at quarter to 5PM.

Four hours later, The Nerdist’s Lindsey Romain posted the following tweet with a link to the article and a screenshot of the section underneath her original text that reads:

Yeah so here’s a direct quote of john boyega insinuating Kelly marie tran is “weak” for how she dealt with TLJ backlash. I’m… I just… wow

If Lindsey Romain’s name sounds familiar to you, you might know her from her work at The Nerdist, work like her actual facts article about how Kylo Ren deserves redemption –

Or from my tweets poking at her tweet where she claims that she wrote her piece “for the women in the STAR WARS fandom who have long felt silenced for holding the same beliefs”.

Generally, I don’t trust people in the Star Wars fandom who are willing to wax poetic about how Kylo Ren – who they usually call by his pre-First Order name of Ben Solo – somehow deserves redemption. These fans usually:

  1. think that this Ben Solo is the Sequel Trilogy’s real hero
  2. believe that not wanting “Bendemption” for a fictional fascist is a moral failure
  3. go above and beyond to diminish both Finn and his performer John Boyega

Which is why we’re here today.

While Lindsey Romain was not the only person to run with a lack of reading comprehension, she is one of the people who did this that also has a ton of followers.

So, when she posts misinformation about John Boyega and frames him as a villain tearing down Kelly Marie Tran, she’s not doing it to an audience of 200 fans or even 2000 fans. As I write this, Twitter shows me that Lindsey Romain is sharing these opinions with an audience of fourteen thousand people.

When she decides to spin a narrative that John Boyega is purposefully implying that Kelly Marie Tran was “weak” for how she handled social media following her experiences with racist and misogynistic harassment from dudebros dissatisfied with The Last Jedi, she’s selling it to her fourteen thousand followers.

Add to that the legitimacy that comes from being a contributing editor to The Nerdist and well –

A lot of people accepted her point of view as law in a way that they wouldn’t have for a smaller and less reputable account.

Instead of thinking to themselves “hey, John has talked about their friendship and defended her before, why would he be calling her ‘weak,’ this feels wrong” these fans rushed to assume the worst about John.

Combined with their ire over his comments about The Last Jedi… the Star Wars fandom was just primed to try and come for John Boyega with a quickness.

(In “John Boyega Is on His Own Hero’s Journey” over at Hypebeast, we see John say that:

“The Force Awakens I think was the beginning of something quite solid, The Last Jedi if I’m being honest I’d say that was feeling a bit iffy for me,” Boyega says. “I didn’t necessarily agree with a lot of the choices in that and that’s something that spoke to Mark [Hamill] a lot about and we had conversations about it. And it was hard for all of us, because we were separated.”

Something which many Film Twitter fuss-faces, TLJ- aficionados, and Rey/Kylo fans thought was not his place to say despite him having one of the best reasons and positions to complain: he was the male lead in The Force Awakens and a central figure in the cast. In The Last Jedi, Finn is adrift from the rest of the trio – due to Rian Johnson’s attempts at shaking things up and frequently turned into a source for comedic relief rather than the sensitive hero he was in the previous film.

Folks round here were all but calling him ‘uppity’ and saying that he wasn’t grateful enough to be in this role and accusing him of “throwing his castmates and director under the bus”.)

And so, they blew this whole situation out of proportion –

Hell, it wasn’t even a situation before Lindsey and other Big Name Fans and Blue Checks in the Star Wars fandom made it into one – beyond the obvious situation: that the Star Wars fandom remains one of the most racist fandoms that I’ve ever had the displeasure of being in.

Friends, the Star Wars fandom is racist.

You may have noticed this because folks keep writing articles about racist things that the fandom has done over the years, from the racism that nearly drove Jar Jar Binks actor Ahmed Best to suicide to the racism and misogyny that was directed at Kelly Marie Tran for portraying Rose Tico in The Last Jedi.

In June 2018, after Kelly Marie Tran deleted all of her images from her Instagram account, SYFY Wire’s Kayleigh Donaldson penned an Op-Ed entitled “Star Wars Has A White Male Fandom Problem” where she doubles down on her title in the text and says:

It would be unfair and too general to say that Star Wars has a fandom problem. What it has is a white male fandom problem.

I disagree.

What fandom has is a whiteness problem.

When Kayleigh tweeted that sentiment the day before her article went live, I’d actually responded to her with that thought, saying that:

I’d argue that Star Wars has a problem with whiteness, where white fans (of all genders) are so devoted to the status quo that this sort of thing happens.

(Plenty of the racist gatekeepers are white women who harass POC and I think it’s important not to forget that.)

Kayleigh never responded to my comments – by the time I’d commented, I think she may have muted notifications for her tweet – and so the view of racism in fandom espoused in her article doesn’t acknowledge that racism in fandom doesn’t exactly have a gender.

Which is a problem considering how many people in fandom give it one.

Blaming racism in fandom solely on white men ignores the fact that white women have actually always been active participants in racism in and out of fandom. It gives racist white women a scapegoat in white men and a reason not to look at their peers in fandom to do better.

It means that when Lindsey Romain tells her massive audience that John Boyega is purposefully dismissing Kelly Marie Tran’s experiences with harassment, folks in fandom think she’s doing it for the right reasons. Folks don’t think about how this shit – assuming the actual worst of John – is part of an ongoing saga of antiblackness from the Star Wars fandom and the (often white) women of the Rey/Kylo fandom in particular.

Because the assumption is that only white men in the fandom can be or have been racist – and, in this case, antiblack as hell – the real harmful behavior on display here isn’t actually brought up in discussions of “toxic fandom”.

But the Star Wars fandom has always been racist and as we come closer and closer to the end of the sequel trilogy’s run, it’s become clearer that the racism isn’t just the purview of white dudes assumed-neckbeard and panting after the ghosts of the EU.

No.

The women of the Rey/Kylo shipping side of the fandom have been so racist across the past almost four years that they’re getting their own installment of my series… Because the Star Wars fandom has an antiblackness problem coming from women in this fandom, and too few people seem willing to address.

Like can we return to the fact that Lindsey Romain made her tweet and her followers just took it at face value that John Boyega had to be trashing her? Can we return to that?

Because as far as I know, John Boyega is one of the few castmates of the sequel trilogy who’s publicly talked about what Kelly experienced as a result of toxic fandom and he’s the only cast member who’s also experienced similarracism from day one.

In fact, back when Kelly first deleted her social media content, John went on Twitter with sharp words, writing that:

If you don’t like Star Wars or the characters understand that there are decisions makers and harassing the actors/ actresses will do nothing. You’re not entitled to politeness when your approach is rude. Even if you paid for a ticket!

That’s easily available information online. He never deleted the tweet.

So why is it that when an interview came out that supposedly appeared to be him throwing shade at Kelly, people… didn’t do their homework? Why is it that they ran right to the worst possible meaning behind his comments: that he thinks that Kelly was less than him because she quit social media and he didn’t…

The thing is that the Rey/Kylo shippers actually always believe the worst about Finn so it’s not such a surprise to see that transfer over to John even though he literally did nothing wrong.

What am I talking about?

I’m talking about things like freelance writer (for outlets like Bustle and Pitchfork at times) Sarah Sahim’s tweets claiming that Finn had “residual misogyny he hasn’t let go of” in a thread of tweets that I’ve included above for posterity’s sake.

Almost everything about this thread is antiblack, from her “‘finn gets with jannah’ hoes have zero rights” comment – please think about who the actual people are that are likely to be shipping a Black M/F couple in transformative fandom spaces (Black women) – to how she has already decided that Jannah is going to be a sassy mammy figure who “has to beat his ass into shape” to the whole thing where she claims that Finn has misogyny to work on and that he’s somehow going to serve Jannah by  “pointing to the tools that’ll allow her to heal her pain”.

I get that on the surface this looks subversive but like…

Making a Black character a mammy figure for another Black character is gross no matter what?

(And Sarah went on to say that men of color were trash, supposedly as a “joke” and considering she’s still locked weeks later… you can see how well that’s gone for her.)

And the thing is that Sarah isn’t white –

She’s a WOC.

You’d think she’d know better than to lean in hard in service of fandom antiblackness but well… #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen and there’s a reason why I’ve had Sarah blocked for ages.

Well part of why I’ve had her blocked is because someone who’s used her presence in fandom to silence people. While she’s at over 8000 followers now, she’s definitely quote tweeted tweets from critical folks with a few hundred followers and kind of… sat back as her followers did them dirty.

The other reason is that she’s a peak PickMe POC. She’s a WOC so her comments assuming that Finn is actually not cool with Rey or Rose – it’s subtextual, he’s talking over one and underestimating the other, apparently – get glossed over and accepted by fandom as “Not Racist”.

Even though –

They are.

Like just by virtue of how hard she goes for Kylo Ren like… how are you going to look at Finn and claim that there’s residual misogyny afoot when you stan the embodiment of incel culture in space?

I desperately want an answer to that one.

Rey/Kylo fans have spent years reading negativity into Finn’s actions:

Like a Rey/Kylo fan who was writing a Beauty and the Beast AU where Finn was Gaston and Kylo was Prince Adam/The Beast saying that:

“I dislike Finn primarily because he’s very indecisive. He can’t seem to pick a cause and stick with it. Plus, he lied to Rey from the beginning – whereas Kylo has never lied to Rey about who he is. Therefore it makes me upset that people still think he’s the clear choice for her affection. I’d dislike him no matter what color he is, because I love John Boyega irl also. He’s an adorable human!”

Or Hazel Monforton’s similar sentiment from April this year when she said that, in response to someone else that:

“Idk, [Kylo] doesn’t lie to her once across either film. Unlike Luke, who definitely lies to her, and Finn, who lies to her right off.”

(I don’t know how these folks are coming up with the idea that the series villain who clearly can’t be trusted is the only person who’s telling the truth to Rey. I mean…  outside of the fact that their antiblackness is blocking blood flow to the parts of their brain that control common sense, which is like – Wow.)

How about the person who wrote a tumblr essay entitled “From my point of view, FinnRey is abusive” that has gems like:

  • But when it comes to Rey, I can’t help think that Finn was being downright selfish and insensitive.
  • Finn is like the guy who tells his highly qualified wife not to work because he earns enough for both.
  • Abuse is not limited to physical hurting. The kind of abuse that men do to their wives/girlfriends in the guise of protectiveness is also detrimental. I won’t call it misogyny because if a woman does that to her partner, discouraging them from pursuing their risky aspirations, it’s also unhealthy, but in real life, women are the more common victims of such suffocative caring.

And a follow-up post where the OP wails about how they “wanted to say that nice people can also have a negative effect on us” before saying they hated Finn for most of The Last Jedi but “nothing I said was motivated by his race”.

I’m assuming that the anonymous moomoo that said that Finn:

Refused to stop taking her hand after being told once. Once is enough. Physically assaulted her by climbing on her, sexually harrassed her by asking a pointed sexual question when they were alone, abandoned her, put her in danger on Starkiller Base, made her a target because he was too useless to fight effectively.

Probably thought they weren’t motivated by his race either?

I have years of screenshots and posts documenting Rey/Kylo fans on Tumblr and Twitter being racist-ly hypercritical about Finn and John Boyega.

Looking at my archives shows that a whole bunch of what’s going on this week with the response to John’s actual comments about The Last Jedi and the comments they decided he was making about Kelly is part of this unending cycle of antiblackness.

But you wouldn’t know that from the few articles that have talked about any aspect of the Star Wars fandom’s problems with race or this situation with John Boyega.

But the thing is that these Rey/Kylo fans who zero in on John Boyega, Finn, and Black fans for the slightest thing –

Are not putting even an ounce of that energy into criticizing white actors, characters, or fans in the same fandom.

Like when they say “I’d criticize Adam for the same thing” or “I’d call out Kylo for his misogyny”, they are lying. They are seriously lying through their teeth.

What’s happening to John Boyega doesn’t happen to white actors.

Daisy Ridley’s comments about her own privilege , Mark Hamill’s constant sly criticism of The Last Jedi, and Adam Driver flat out forgetting the name of the last Star Wars film he was in do not get the same responses as John and Kelly existing in the Sequel Trilogy Cast. Let’s be very real here.

And what’s distressing is that people seem to forget that Kelly Marie Tran wasn’t the first Star Wars performer to get racist hatred. She’s not the only performer of color that deserves defending from a racist fanbase –

And Rey/Kylo fans refuse to admit that there’s a problem… or that they are a part of it.

Like this Rey/Kylo shipper comparing her experience running a fan blog to John’s experiences with the fandom (which is again, racist as hell to him at all corners):

John be a girl and run a pro reylo account for an hour an see how you could handle people popping off on you, slut slamming [sic] you, and bullying you.. BC WE HAVE DEALT WITH IT FOR 6 FUCKING YEARS AND THIS FANDOM IS FULL OF THE STRONGEST CHICKS I KNOW BRO

Aside from the fact that the sequel trilogy actually came out in 2015 and John was getting racist harassment from the time folks realized that he was the lead – harassment that only increased once they realize that space incel was the last Skywalker –

Getting hate for choosing to run a fan account for a polarizing white male/female ship with tens of thousands of militant fans and 11 thousand stories on AO3 is not the same as getting hate because you’re Black?

(Which is something that Black Finn fans have gotten as well within this fandom! So it’s not just John)

If you’re a white woman shipping Rey/Kylo, you’re a default in fandom shipping a default in fandom. Trust me, you are not oppressed for it on any level… Especially not one approaching the scale of antiblackness your fanbase has aimed John Boyega’s way across the past 3+ years.

In her actual not-pology the day after using her massive platform to call John Boyega out, Lindsey Romain uses “the heat of the moment” as an excuse, writing that:

As a white woman, using my space to call out a black actor for confusing words wasn’t right, and i apologize. i was feeling defensive of Kelly in the heat of the moment and didn’t think about the larger ramifications. It’s an admitted privileged blind spot.

As y’all know with my whole thing with Amber, I don’t accept shitty apologies for antiblackness.

Friends, this is a shitty apology for antiblackness.

Lindsey doesn’t use John Boyega’s name or tag him, literally reducing him to “a black actor” in her not-pology.

She doesn’t take responsibility for sharing misinformation and an interpretation that damaged his reputation in the eyes of the wider world.

She doesn’t apologize for the way her followers demeaned and dismissed John Boyega, with people wondering if he was actually evil or saying that he purposefully tried to appeal to The Fandom Menace in “attacking” Kelly.

She didn’t apologize for weaponizing White Feminism ™ and using Kelly’s experiences as a shield for her obvious antiblackness.

And of course, she doesn’t apologize for being loud and wrong in public.

Lindsey in action.

And that’s what this fandom does –

That’s what these women have been doing for years –

And the only people talking about it have zero power in fandom. We’re not The Nerdist editors or hot shot freelance writers with massive audiences at our platforms of choice. We don’t have The Mary Sue willing to let us show our asses on the regular in snide “shipping isn’t morality” pieces that don’t acknowledge that shipping is informed by our morality. We have small followings and limited access to nerd media essay platforms.

When we talk about problems in this fandom and how it has treated Black people for years, we do so knowing that big accounts like Hazel, like Lindsey, like Sarah can pretty much destroy our day by quote tweeting us or sharing our screenshot posts with people who will swarm our mentions – and that sometimes they do attempt it. Sometimes they and their followers actually succeed in silencing us.

John Boyega has had to deal with years of racist abuse from dudebros and Rey/Kylo shippers alike –

And so have his Black fans who try to support him amidst one of the most racist fandoms I’ve seen in years.

But you wouldn’t know any of that if you solely looked at the way nerd outlets handle this sort of shit…

Or that the fandom’s constant antiblackness – and the type fueled by Rey/Kylo shippers in particular – is the main reason why John’s words were blown out of proportion and so negatively at that.

Because the nerd news outlets covering these situations literally aren’t putting things into context and looking at immediate fandom history.

And I am so damn tired of it.

About Zeenah

Zina writes about comics, nerd history, and ridiculous romance novels when not working frantically on her first collection of short stories and complaining about stuff. One day, she'll settle down and write that novel.
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8 Responses to What Fandom Racism Looks Like: The Star Wars Fandom (Part One, Probably)

  1. lkeke35 says:

    One of the things the internet has definitely taught me is the myth of white women’s innocence. I wrote about this a little bit in my Curative vs Transformative Fandom post, about how, since women’s hobbies and activities are constantly devalued, hat many people are not paying close attention to how White women are expressing their racism in the various fandoms.

    White women are every bit as racist as white men in fandom. They just perform it differently, and in ways the mainstream media doesn’t immediately recognize. Their manner is both subtle and somewhat hidden.

    Like

  2. Pingback: What Fandom Racism Looks Like: The Star Wars Fandom (Part One, Probably) – Geeking Out about It

  3. ljones1966 says:

    I have been aware of the Star Wars fandom’s racism for nearly twenty years – ever since the releases of the Prequel movies like “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Jedi”. Back then, whenever the fans criticized the Jedi, they usually dumped their criticism on Samuel Jackson’s Jedi Master Mace Windu. Many of them accused him of being the only Jedi who never trusted Anakin Skywalker or of “holding back” the younger man. They used Mace as a scapegoat for the Jedi’s flaws, due to him being portrayed by a black actor. And have you ever noticed that after nearly 40 years, many fans tend to close their eyes on the circumstances that surrounded Lando Calrissian’s betrayal of Han Solo, Leia Organa and Chewbacca? They still justify Chewbacca’s attack on Lando and Leia’s support of the attack, while refusing to admit that Han’s decision to head for Bespin and failure to notice that he was being followed played a major role on what had unfolded in “The Empire Strikes Back”.

    Like

    • Zeenah says:

      I remember seeing people my age recently (within the past few years) zooming past context to claim that Lando was a bad friend and the worst person ever. They literally forgave Vader because he was “redeemed” but hold onto a grudge against Lando. Wild!

      It’s fascinating that the Star Wars fandom hasn’t changed that much over the years and that Black characters will always be the handiest punching bag or problem for the fandom to latch on to and load with their hate.

      Like

  4. Melkor says:

    This kind of racism is in most fandoms. I don’t know if you watch the CW superhero shows but there are/were a couple of interracial relationships in some of those shows and the black characters in the partnerships receive a ton of abuse. The James Olsen character on Supergirl is a prime example. They demoted him from love interest to the main character in the second season. The white audience hated him. Then they tried pairing him with Lena Luthor, Lex Luthor’s sister. The shippers wanted a lesbian relationship between her and Supergirl so once again the hate train came for him. I think he’s finally left the show.

    Like

  5. Pingback: The Importance of Fandom and Fan Creation | myzania

  6. Ronald says:

    Facts.

    Like

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