It’s the big finish for that class I teach at Ithaca College that focuses on pop culture, running conventions and entrepreneurism. Classes have ended and the final is this week.
Here’s our third and winning entry for this year’s column contest. Nina Singh is an impressive student, and a good writer too. I think her column will give you something to think about!
Congrats on a great year, Nina.
Star Wars Toxicity: A Look at Lizzo’s Backlash and Beyond
By: Nina Singh
It is a sad reality that many Star Wars fans have devolved into a toxic and intolerant community. This became apparent yet again when Lizzo, a popular musician and actress, appeared in an episode of The Mandalorian. The backlash against her casting is a prime example of how some fans have lost sight of what it means to be a true fan of the franchise.
For those who are unfamiliar with The Mandalorian, it is a popular Disney+ show set in the Star Wars universe. It follows the adventures of a bounty hunter named Din Djarin, who is also known as the Mandalorian. In one of the recent episodes, Lizzo made a brief appearance as Duchess Bombardier, one of the glamorous and wealthy rulers of Plazir-15, an independent planet.
Despite her small role, some fans were outraged by Lizzo’s appearance in the show. Many took to social media to express their displeasure, with some even going so far as to call for a boycott of The Mandalorian. There have been numerous posts and tweets about how Lizzo does not fit in with geek culture, that she does not deserve the role, and some even body shaming and being racist towards her. Here are some examples of these tweets:
Editor’s Note: These tweets are reprehensible, and we debated showing them. Ultimately, we determined that the showing the awful and disgusting content of these tweets enhances the argument that the author is making. We do not condone the content in these messages and obscured the posters’ identities as we do not want them to gain any traffic from our site.
This is a particularly troubling development for Star Wars fans, as the franchise has always celebrated its inclusivity and diversity within George Lucas’ vision and the story’s themes. George Lucas created a universe that is rich, varied, and inclusive, and he explored subjects of differences, acceptance, tolerance, and empathy throughout the story. It is disheartening to see fans turn their backs on these core values and lash out at someone simply because of their appearance.
Their words seemed to confirm what growing up as a woman and a person of color already taught me: that I belonged in margins and spaces..
Of course, this is not the first time that Star Wars fans have exhibited toxic behavior. The fandom has been plagued by issues of toxicity and intolerance for years, particularly in the wake of the release of the latest trilogy of films. Many fans were outraged by the direction the films took, and they unleashed their anger on the actors and filmmakers involved, directing racism at John Boyega, who played Finn, and sexism towards Daisy Ridley, who played Rey.
This backlash culminated when fans targeted actress Kelly Marie Tran, the first woman of color cast in Star Wars. She played rebel pilot Rose Tico, and the fanbase spewed hatred because they did not like her character. These fans’ harassment and flurry of racist and sexist remarks led her to delete all her social media accounts. She wrote in a personal essay for The New York Times that “It wasn’t their words, it’s that I started to believe them. Their words seemed to confirm what growing up as a woman and a person of color already taught me: that I belonged in margins and spaces, valid only as a minor character in their lives and stories.”
Fans hiding their bigotry behind their criticisms of writing and direction was sadly only the beginning of a slippery slope and downward spiral of the fanbase. A similar behavior was displayed by fans during the weekly releases of another Disney+ Star Wars show, Obi-Wan Kenobi; however, this time, fans did not have the guise of lack of direction and poor writing to cower behind.
Ratings and reviews all applauded the show, but there was still distaste left from how fans treated actress Moses Ingram who played the Inquisitor, Third Sister Reva. Again racist, sexist remarks rained down on Ingram, with some even going as far as using racial slurs to denigrate her. She went live on Instagram to address this hate and thank those who have been supporting her. In the video, she stated that she had this feeling that she had to “shut up and take it,” but that she wasn’t built like that, calling out those who harassed her as “weird” fans.
This is not to say that all Star Wars fans are toxic—far from it. There are many fans who are passionate about the franchise and who celebrate its diversity and inclusivity like myself. However, it is clear that a vocal and toxic minority has taken hold of the fandom and is poisoning it for everyone else. There needs to be change.
We are moving into a new era of entertainment where diversity plays a prominent role in casting, and Disney and Star Wars are a part of this. Producers are filling Star Wars movie and show roles with non-white stars, which makes new stories more appealing to a younger and more diverse audience. This is fostering change within the industry and the certain standards that are set. While this diversity is a positive change, it puts a target on these performers’ backs. They are expected to endure tremendous amounts of harassment and more needs to be done about it.
Ingram had previously stated that the studio did warn her in private that she would receive harassment from fans when Obi-Wan Kenobi would premiere. If the studio knew this was going to happen, they should have taken action beforehand to denounce what they knew would come and to protect their actors and actresses. Companies like Disney who are bringing in billions of dollars of revenue—Disney brought in $84.4 billion in revenue in 2022—need to take more action to safeguard those who are bringing these stories to life. They need to act before these toxic fans have a chance to take a swing at the actors and actresses.
So, the question concerning what can be done about this issue remains. It is clear that simply ignoring the toxic fans and releasing social media statements is not enough. Their behavior is harmful and hurtful, and it already has and can continue to have real-world consequences for the people they target. For example, Disney could align fan celebrations with diversity celebrations, and have the people who work on these pieces of media celebrate the diversity of the cast before the show or movie even comes out. Disney could also use stronger messaging against hatred. A great example of this could be a launch of an advertising campaign against racism and sexism in the franchise, using May the 4th, which is widely known as Star Wars Day. This could include billboards, promoted posts and content, newspapers, guerilla marketing, merchandise, and more.
Disney has a responsibility to make it clear that harassment is not welcome, and that everyone involved in the franchise deserves to be treated with respect. In the words of the official Star Wars Twitter account: “There are more than 20 million sentient species in the Star Wars galaxy, don’t choose to be a racist.”
There are more than 20 million sentient species in the Star Wars galaxy, don’t choose to be a racist.
— Star Wars (@starwars) May 31, 2022