I’d like to take a minute to talk about #BoycottStarWarsVII and the conventional “wisdom” of not feeding the trolls.
Now that it’s “over,” we know that #BoycottStarWarsVII was created and promoted by a relatively small number of racist bigots. This then snowballed once rational people started using the hashtag to call out the bigots. Essentially, the hashtag started trending not because of its use by bigots, but rather by sensible people who knew that casting people of color in a movie was not “white genocide.”
Once this fact was discovered, media reporting (and to an extent public opinion) started to shift. Instead of “shame on them” suddenly it became “shame on us” for feeding the trolls (e.g. Esquire’s #BoycottStarWarsVII and Why the Internet Is Trolling Itself to Death and The Daily Dot’s The #BoycottStarWarsVII Hashtag Was Totally Just Trolling Us). The latter argues the hashtag has all the “hallmarks of a 4chan hoax” and also that “people seemed to be aware they were looking at a hyperbolic, 4chan-style troll campaign and just couldn’t resist taking the bait.”
How is a group of racists saying racist shit and encouraging others to join in a “hoax?” Why is it that when people publicly speak out against racist rhetoric and ideas, they’re treated as fools because they “couldn’t resist?”
We didn’t just “feed the trolls” as so many have suggested. What we did was show up in force to say “no.”
We hijacked a racist hashtag. That is awesome. That is the way we’re supposed to respond to shit like this. I wish more racist hashtags were immediately hijacked.
We didn’t just give the trolls attention (although I would question if publicly disgracing someone should be synonymous with “attention”). What we did was have a very public discussion about race and representation with the overwhelming majority of the voices arguing for more positive representation.
Compare the reaction to #BoycottStarWarsVII to the racist public outcry regarding Amandla Stenberg’s casting as Rue in The Hunger Games (a.k.a. that time a Black actor was cast to play a Black character and the internet lost its shit). Or to the response of Idris Elba’s casting as Heimdall in Thor. Or to Michael B. Jordan’s casting as the Human Torch in Fantastic Four. Or to the rumors of Donald Glover’s casting in The Amazing Spider-Man.
This kind of backlash happens all the time. The only difference is that this time, nearly all the Tweets and posts were those of support.
What I saw when I searched #BoycottStarWarsVII was proclamations of solidarity, reminders of people of color’s contributions to sci-fi, and very personal stories about the importance of representation. This is how we should respond to racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc. This wasn’t a failure; it was a resounding success.
What many are calling “feeding the trolls” I call a huge public outpouring of support for a major Hollywood film with a Black lead. That’s something to celebrate, not shame.