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Kelly Marie Tran, who has most recently lent her voice to the heroine at the helm of Disney's Raya and the Last Dragon, premiering on Disney+ March 5th, first found fame in 2017 when she starred in Rian Johnson's Star Wars film The Last Jedi. The film drew a deep line in the sand within the Star Wars fan community, and those who was displeased with the latest installment of the franchise directed their hate at the first woman of color to be cast in a lead Star Wars role.
"I've definitely in the past viewed the world through rose-colored glasses, and now I feel like I'm in the back, smoking a cigarette, [saying], 'I've seen things,'" Tran told The Hollywood Reporter during her March 3rd feature interview. The hate from the Star Wars community and beyond was so bad that Tran eventually deleted her social media posts so that she wouldn't have to read the racist and sexist comments left on her photos, and she has yet to post to her Instagram since.
"What's interesting to me about working in this industry is that certain things become so public, even if you don't really mean them to be, [like] the succession of events in which I left the internet for my own sanity," she told THR. "It was basically me being like, 'Oh, this isn't good for my mental health. I'm obviously going to leave this.'"
She didn't just leave social media, but Tran left the Hollywood lifestyle altogether. "It felt like I was just hearing the voice of my agents and my publicity team and all of these people telling me what to say and what to do and how to feel," she continued. "And I realized, I didn't know how I felt anymore. And I didn't remember why I was in this in the first place."
Tran said that when this realization hit, she had to "close up shop and go away for a while"—go back to "the real world." She told THR that she spent this time away reading books, journaling, hiking, and "[reminding] myself that there was a fire that burned inside of me before Star Wars, before any of this. And I needed to find that again."
When the opportunity to voice Raya, the heroine of the first-ever Disney animated film to be directly inspired by Southeast Asian cultures, that fire relit itself.
It took withdrawing from the public eye and leaning on friends and family for Tran to realize, "If someone doesn't understand me or my experience, it shouldn't be my place to have to internalize their misogyny or racism or all of the above." She told THR, "Maybe they just don't have the imagination to understand that there are different types of people living in the world."
Though Tran's skin has hardened due to the bullying she experienced, her inner softness and love for filmmaking and all the people involved has not shifted. "Hope, for me, looks like reminding yourself that to get where you are, you've survived some shit," she said. Thanks to the people she chooses to surround herself with, Tran is able and excited to move forward.