For Kelly Marie Tran, the recent rise in anti-Asian sentiment in the United States strikes close to home.
The 32-year-old Star Wars actress and star of the new Disney film Raya and the Last Dragon, who is the California-born daughter of Vietnamese refugees, has spoken out in the past about being bullied over her race. In a new interview, she discusses her feelings about the increase of reported anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States, which began last year amid the start of the coronavirus pandemic that originated in China.
"It's been really, really difficult, I think, to feel so many feelings at once," Tran said on The Ellen DeGeneres Show on Wednesday, March 24. "It's such a difficult time for the Asian-American community and I think it hits everyone different. So many of my friends have been talking about, 'OK, what are the ways that we can productively help?' and also recognizing that we all need to make sure that we're taking care of ourselves and our mental health at the same time."
She continued, "I think for me, something that has been really strange about it, is that I'm here talking about Raya, this move that is celebrating this part of the world which very rarely gets celebrated. And having that dichotomy of celebrating this part of the world and then also acknowledging these horrible things that are happening at the same time has been a very wild experience. I really hope that this movie can give people a little bit of joy in the middle of this really tumultuous thing."
"And if there's anything I've learned from this whole experience and my own personal experiences with racism, is that community is the one way to help combat any sort of negativity," Tran said. "And I'm really inspired by seeing the ways that people are really banding together to combat this thing."
The animated film Raya and the Last Dragon features a predominantly Asian-American cast. Tran provides the voice of the title character, a warrior princess who embarks on a quest to find the last dragon, in a bid to restore peace to her homeland.
The actress' appearance on Wednesday on The Ellen DeGeneres Show comes three years after she deleted Instagram following months of harassment by trolls, who posted racist, sexist and other offensive comments about her after she made her debut in the 2017 movie Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the first film in the latest trilogy.
In an essay published in The New York Times, Tran broke her silence about leaving the social media platform, writing, "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...And those words awakened something deep inside me — a feeling I thought I had grown out of. The same feeling I had when at 9, I stopped speaking Vietnamese altogether because I was tired of hearing other kids mock me."
"I want to live in a world where children of color don't spend their entire adolescence wishing to be white," she continued in her newspaper essay. "I want to live in a world where women are not subjected to scrutiny for their appearance, or their actions, or their general existence. I want to live in a world where people of all races, religions, socioeconomic classes, sexual orientations, gender identities and abilities are seen as what they have always been: human beings. This is the world I want to live in. And this is the world that I will continue to work toward."