Fandom became a dirty word again this week, when it was discovered that Star Wars: The Last Jedi actress Kelly Marie Tran, who played Rose Tico, had either privatized her much-trolled Instagram account or deleted all the photos in it. Tran hasn’t publicly confirmed that the vitriol from the Star Wars fan base’s anti-diversity flank, which largely focused on her gender, race, and weight, is to blame for her Instagram shutdown, but a tweet from Last Jedi director Rian Johnson seemed to suggest as much. Rabid, reactionary fans tend to aim their ire at women and people of color, as Tran’s co-stars Daisy Ridley and John Boyega can attest, as can Ghostbusters’ Leslie Jones and Rick and Morty’s female writers. But on Wednesday, many Star Wars fans seemed determined to reclaim a fan base that had been co-opted and defaced by the ugliest corners of their community. And so the #FanArtForRose hashtag campaign on Twitter was born.
Tran isn’t known to be a Twitter user, but I hope she’s somewhere out there lapping up all the joy and warmth—the same traits she brought to her performance and that, even before The Last Jedi’s release, made her a fan favorite on the movie’s publicity tour, during which she spoke openly about the privilege and pleasure of playing the Star Wars movies’ first major (human) woman of color. #FanArtForRose, which has been now been retweeted by thousands, including Johnson himself, offers exactly what it says: fan illustrations of Tran’s character, mostly looking beautiful, adorable, inspirational, and/or content—all those qualities toxic fans want to strip from Rose and the actress who depicts her. I could quibble with the few widely circulated images that render Rose childlike, and thus nonthreatening—which clangs against who that character is and all the bravery she displays. (For the record, Tran is an entirely adult 29-year-old.) But I also understand that artists tend to be married to their styles and that portraying Rose as innocent and defenseless is a rhetorically effective move.
But what’s really notable about #FanArtForRose—and may factor into internecine fan-base fights going forward—is the way a (seeming) silent majority of Star Wars fans, who embrace Rose or have nothing against her, are asserting en masse their community’s decency. Trolls wield an outsize influence within fandoms and the coverage thereof, but in the end, they comprise a vociferous few. (Johnson seems to agree, tweeting about the pro-Rose faction, “We’re the VAST majority, we’re having fun & doing just fine.”) Instead of shouting down Tran’s detractors, the #FanArtForRose army opted for a more peaceful, loving approach, embodying what fandom can and should look like.
Unfortunately, such organized exhibitions of appreciation might be necessary each time a character or actor who is not straight, white, and male comes under attack. Those efforts might provide fans and studio execs, who base salaries on a character or actor’s perceived popularity, with a more accurate picture of what the fan base really thinks. And it’s crucial that such campaigns are mobilized. Fans rallied around Leslie Jones when ghoulish Ghostbusters fans leaked nude pictures of her and forced her off Twitter, but we might all have been happier if we had more instances of celebration instead of just shock and rage, no matter how warranted.
Of course, we can crowd out toxic fans, but we can’t silence them. Taking the high road, as #FanArtForRose does, will probably do nothing to deter trolls, who might even feel energized by their visible marginalization. Excluding them from the group of “real” fans, as Johnson does, may also fuel their unearned sense of victimhood. And so the best tactic in dealing with trolls appears to be to stick to the #FanArtForRose playbook and pour affection and goodwill into everyone’s timelines. It won’t make those inclined to hate any less hateful, but it can redefine fandom for everyone else.