In a recent IG live, actress Moses Ingram disclosed details about the harassment she’d been receiving from Star Wars fans after the premiere of the Disney+ TV series Obi-Wan Kenobi in which she plays Inquisitor Reva. “Long story short, there are hundreds of those,” Ingram said about the racist messages she has been receiving directly through her social media.
The racist harassment Ingram is facing is just the latest example of Black actors being attacked by fans for playing historically white characters. In May, actress Leah Sava Jeffries was attacked after being cast as Annabeth Chase in the Disney+ Percy Jackson and the Olympians TV series because fans noted that the character Jeffries was playing is described as white in the popular book series. Back in 2018, Amandla Stenberg reflected on the racist hate she received from The Hunger Games fans for her portrayal as Rue in the film adaptation, a character that was actually described as Black in the book series. And in 2015, Michael B. Jordan wrote an op-ed about the experience he had with the blowback from being cast as Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four back in 2015.
This is not new. Even within the Star Wars franchise, actor John Boyega has spoken at length about the racism he faced during his tenure in a galaxy far, far away:
“[I’m] the only cast member who had their own unique experience of that franchise based on their race,” Boyega said. “It makes you angry, with a process like that. It makes you much more militant; it changes you. Because you realize, I got given this opportunity, but I’m in an industry that wasn’t even ready for me.”
The insidiousness and illogical nature of racism is always exposed during these situations when a fandom can easily suspend their disbelief over human characters are fighting in outer space alongside aliens and other fantastical creatures, but draw the line at Black people existing in these imaginary worlds.
Actor and writer Ryan Ken tweeted a damning theory on why Black existence in sci-fi/fantasy ruins the racists’ experience:
“It kinda amuses me when white people don’t want non-white people in their sci-fi/fantasy when most of those stories are just allegories about how non-white people are treated. For a certain type of white fan, I think the real fantasy appeal is getting to imagine you’re resilient,” they tweeted.
“You watch the movie and say “I’m the hero! I would fight oppression!” Then you go home to your family/neighborhood that has the identical views of the movie villain and all you say is “Nice weather we’re havin’!” And because we know that about you, we “ruin” the fantasy lol.”
Regardless, Black people in sci-fi/fantasy will continue to exist. Studios have tried to course-correct the historical dearth in Black characters in the sci-fi/fantasy genres by casting Black actors in historically white roles as a means of legacy maintenance and paltry attempt at diversity. But too often, as was Boyega’s experience, studios leave their Black stars defenseless against the vitriol of their fanbase.
In a fortunate rarity, producers for both Jeffries’ and Ingram’s series have spoken up in support of them. Lead actor and producer on Obi-Wan Kenobi Ewan Mcgregor said in a video on his Instagram: "Moses is a brilliant actor. She's a brilliant woman, and she's absolutely amazing in this series. She brings so much to the series. She brings so much to the franchise and it just sickened me to my stomach to hear that this has been happening." The Star Wars official Twitter account even sent out a message reading: “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.”It's now been reported that Ingram will star in a Disney + Obi-Wan Kenobi spinoff centered on her character, Reva.
Inclusion is not only about having Black actors in your cast, but also aggressively defending them against racism. Films and TV shows do not get to pat themselves on the back for the simple act of finally recognizing we exist when their initial erasure of Black people from their world created a fanbase that could use their work as a form of white escapist fantasy. Do the work in protecting Black women from the jump, or leave us alone.
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