Kelly Marie Tran Hopes 'Raya' Brings Joy to Viewers Amid Anti-Asian Hate Happening Right Now
"It's been really, really difficult to feel so many feelings at once."
Kelly Marie Tran knows firsthand what anti-Asian hate looks like. As the California-born daughter of Vietnamese refugees, the actress has been subjected to racist and sexist harassment, especially after becoming the first woman of color to be cast in a lead Star Wars role in 2017. Now, following the fatal shootings at Asian-owned massage parlors last week and the alarming rise in anti-Asian hate crimes over the past year, Tran is speaking out about the impact of this heavy news.
"It's been really, really difficult, I think, to feel so many feelings at once," she said on The Ellen DeGeneres Show on Wednesday, March 24th. "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, 'Okay, 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."
Tran also talked about what it's been like to promote her new animated movie, Raya and the Last Dragon, during such a dark time for the Asian American and Pacific Islanders community. The film—in which Tran voices the title character, a warrior princess on a quest to save her homeland—takes place in the fantasy land of Kumandra and is inspired by Southeast Asian cultures.
"I think for me, something that has been really strange about it, is that I'm here talking about Raya, this movie that is celebrating this part of the world, which very rarely gets celebrated," she said. "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."
Tran also emphasized the importance of community and working together against racism. "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," she said. "And I'm really inspired by seeing the ways that people are really banding together to combat this thing."
The actress wrote about her personal experiences with racism in an essay for The New York Times in 2018, explaining her decision to delete social media after dealing with immense online hate following her role in the 2017 Star Wars film.
"It wasn't their words, it's that I started to believe them," she wrote. "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."
Tran also opened up about this experience earlier this year, telling The Hollywood Reporter how stepping aside from social media and leaning on friends and family taught her that, "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 said.
Raya and the Last Dragon is currently available to view on Disney+ and in select theaters.