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The Significance of Kelly Marie Tran in Star Wars Episode VIII

Last week was a pretty discouraging one for the APA community — and for all POC folks — with Scarlett Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi, Tilda Swinton as a bald Tibetan monk, and Nat Wolff as Light Yagami. There has been massive outrage on many fronts and thankfully, the concern has been taken seriously by major publications such as the Hollywood Reporter. Over here at NOC, it’s been covered numerous times, so it’s safe to say that the anger and frustration is still very much present for many of us.

Let’s, for the time being, look at a happier place; to a story where a relatively unknown Asian American actress by the name of Kelly Marie Tran has been cast to play the new female lead for Star Wars Episode VIII. Not much is known about the role but being an actor in Los Angeles, it helped knowing a few folks who went in when auditions took place last September. The role was open to ALL ETHNICITIES and was surely for the new female lead in the upcoming Star Wars chapter. Whoever would get the role had to have a chemistry test with John Boyega (whether it’s a love interest for Finn or someone who is best friends with him is unknown) and once they nailed that, the rest would be history.

If this is going to be a love story, this better be a good one. Don’t screw it up, Star Wars!

And then I remembered this article from The Wrap last September about the new female lead in Star Wars Episode VIII having names like Tatiana Maslany, Olivia Cooke, and Gina Rodriguez in consideration — from a few of my actress friends who also went in for the role, I heard Anna Kendrick was also seen to audition for it as well — and that they would indeed have to do a chemistry test with John Boyega.

Holy crap. This is the exact same role that Kelly booked! She beat out those actresses? OH EM GEE, I’M FREAKING OUT!

Kelly was able to beat out these named actresses. How awesome is that?

So let it be known that Kelly Marie Tran, a Vietnamese American actress — primarily known for her internet content, a few costars on TV shows, and her improv performances — was able to land the new female lead in the biggest sci-fi franchise of all time against such heavy hitters. Kudos to her hard work, her talent, as well as the producers Ram Bergman and Kathleen Kennedy along with director Rian Johnson to giving an Asian American actress a shot to play in the big leagues and be taken seriously as the lead. This is even more significant than Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang as part of the ensemble for Rogue One because their offer was most likely done to draw in Chinese audiences. The casting of Kelly, however, as an up and coming Vietnamese American actress, had no “let’s get even more of that China money” ploy to it. It was simply because she was the best person for the job.

It’s so tempting to say “Help us Kelly Marie Tran, you’re our only hope,” but considering these depressing times where an Asian can’t even play an Asian character — when it comes to being the main lead in a Hollywood studio film, I might as well.

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