In Plain Sight: How White Supremacy, Misogyny, and Hate Targeted the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy and Won

What Will Be Discussed:

I. Defining 21st Century Culture Wars: Gamergate, Cambridge Analytica, & The Rise of the Alt-Right
-Timeline of Outrage Media
-What is Gamergate?
-White Nationalism Targets the Star Wars Franchise

Defining 21st Century Culture Wars: Gamergate, Cambridge Analytica, & The Rise of the Alt-Right

In 2018, revelations about the UK-based data firm Cambridge Analytica revealed that the firm had used data from 50 million Facebook profiles to target users with personalized and politically driven advertisements. The ads were often racist in nature, fueling the spread of white supremacy and racist fear into the mainstream and successfully manipulating presidential elections in Africa, India, the UK, and the US.

What is Gamergate?

In August 2014, game developer Zoe Quinn’s ex boyfriend, Eron Gjoni, released a blog post accusing Quinn of receiving positive reviews on their game Depression Quest from Nathan Grayson, a writer for Kotaku, because the two were in a relationship. Gjoni accused Quinn of cheating on him and released personal information about them in the post. The clear angry attack of a disgruntled ex boyfriend was quickly transformed into a frenzy against “ethics in gaming journalism.”

White Nationalism Targets the Star Wars Franchise

On October 19th, 2015 4chan trolls and members of 4chan’s /pol/ board, a Gamergate forum, began the #BoycottStarWarsVII hashtag. A self-appointed troll under the username DarklyEnlighten (now suspended) tweeted that “the new Star Wars movie (#StarWarsVII) barely has any whites in it. #BoycottStarWarsVII.” The tag was meant to direct hate towards people of color cast in the upcoming film The Force Awakens including Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, and John Boyega, with the brunt of the attack focused on Boyega.

Racist tweets against Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens by “Paul Kersey’s” Twitter account under the username BWLH_ including the tweet that started the #BoycottStarWarsVII hashtag

The New Gamergate: The Rise of Alt-Right Ideology in Star Wars Fandom

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi released on December 15, 2017 to universal acclaim from critics and a glowing audience score from CinemaScore, the only statistically sound audience score available to the general public. The movie would go on to gross 1 billion dollars in less than three weeks and become one of the most successful movies of all time.

Was The Last Jedi Polarizing?: A Twitter Analysis

To get a strong idea of sentiment on Twitter, I analyzed over 1 million tweets from December 2017 to November 2018 collected at various times between 2019 to 2020 (please see the methodology section at the bottom of this article for full details). I used two different methods to analyze sentiment: 1) the positive to negative sentiment ratio of top words by volume and 2) positive to negative sentiment ratio of top tweets (defined as any tweet with > 1,000 engagements).

Wordcloud of top words used in tweets mentioning “The Last Jedi” from December 2017 to November 2018 (min. frequency = 10,000)
Breakdown of account professions/affiliations for positive and negative tweets before accounting for political motivations
Dave Rubin, host of right-wing alternative talk show Rubin Report, disparages actor Mark Hamill for suggesting that women should hold positions of power and critiques plot points of The Last Jedi
A pro-Trump account and conservative satirical writer mock Rose Tico in anti-The Last Jedi Twitter comments

All Roads Lead to YouTube: An Analysis

As established in the last section, I know that almost half of the negativity about The Last Jedi from top-engaged tweets are from an account that links back to a YouTube or Twitch page. Therefore, going into this analysis, I was expecting YouTube to be more negative against The Last Jedi than what I observed on Twitter.

YouTuber Vito Gesualdi, who has one of the top viewed videos against The Last Jedi, tweets a racial slur
Videos from IDRLabs’ YouTube channel promoting anti-feminist hate against Star Wars and radical right-wing views against leftist politics. Most of these videos lead back to personality tests.

The Star Wars Alt-Right Recruitment Problem

The center of alt-right and radical right-wing ideology in Star Wars fandom is on YouTube, a favorable (and profitable) home for indignation against non-white and non-cis male individuals built up on 4chan during Gamergate. It isn’t difficult to find videos of mostly white men belaboring their strongly held belief that women and minorities are ruining video games, comic books, and Star Wars. They reiterate these convictions as they wade through tweets, articles, and blog posts that they associate with the mainstream ‘left” in an effort to create alternative news sources for their followers.

  1. They can be highly profitable
  2. They play a considerable role in alt-right radicalization
Wordcloud of YouTube video titles from 20 anti-The Last Jedi YouTubers (min frequency = 130)
Videos from Star Wars YouTubers pushing pro-Donald Trump sentiment and attacking Leslie Jones
Videos by Star Wars YouTubers push white supremacist ideology to create an “us” vs “them” narrative against diversity
Alt -right Star Wars YouTubers attack female characters, actresses, and directors across multiple pop-culture franchises
Star Wars YouTubers push anti-feminist agenda against the President of Lucasfilm
Est. Min and Max earnings from YouTube ad revenue for channel lifetime
(L) Alt-right associated account MauLer tweets about his massive jump in subscribers following anti-The Last Jedi videos; (R) Alt Right YouTubers in the Star Wars fandom have channels that can total hundreds of millions of views
Videos from DDayCobra, the personal account of Geeks + Gamers, pushing pro-Trump sentiment, including positive views of Capitol Insurrection
Before right-wing social media site Parler was pulled from Amazon’s servers, DDayCobra perpetuated fear against the US government and mainstream media that there is a plot to “come after” right-wing American citizens
Videos from Timcast pushing right-wing/alt-right ideology including videos against mainstream media and “Antifa riots”
Right-wing reactionary Jordan Peterson opens several of ComicArtstPro Secrects’ videos with plugs on his book 12 Rules For Life
Alt-right Star Wars blogger ItchyBacca cheers on the Proud Boys as they storm the Capitol on January 6th, 2021

How Far Right Hate Turns Into Fact

So, how did a small, concentrated group on YouTube become representative of the entire population of people who ever saw The Last Jedi?

The Danger of “Click Bait” Headlines

Pop-culture entertainment journalism, in particular, is rife with sensationalist headlines that have nothing to do with what the audience actually thought about a particular group of media. The most infamous culprits of this are pop culture sites like ScreenRant and ComicBookResources, both owned by ValNet, a company that doesn’t produce journalistic integrity, but instead produces clicks.

Socks, Bots, and Super Users

In October, 2018, several publications reported that 50% of hate against The Last Jedi was the result of “Russian trolls.”

Dan Murrell, writer and producer of the comedy show “Honest Trailers” comments on abusive Last Jedi hate

Hashtags and “Boycotts”

Another popular method for how hate is made to look bigger than it actually is is the use of hashtags and “boycotts.” These tags are usually pushed by a small, but dedicated group of users.

Top tweet mentioning “The Last Jedi” between 2017 and 2018 that uses the “#lastjediawful” tag
Solo: A Star Wars Story Ron Howard entertains the idea that Solo’s box office result was due to backlash against The Last Jedi
Ben Shapiro tweets about how Solo’s flaws as a film are due to the poor handling of the sequel trilogy

Lack of Education About the Dangers of Online Conversation

The biggest reason why politically driven hate can spread so easily is simply the lack of education around how internet spaces work.

Women, especially women of color, are targeted by alt-right groups with organized mass downvoting on YouTube
Host of YouTube Channel “Echo Base Network” spreads conspiracies about US Election on Parler

The Generational Cost of Hate: The Alt Right’s Successful Political Attack against Progressive Culture

By the time the sequel trilogy is about to come to a close in December 2019, the only retaliation against the organized racist and sexist barrage against it has been a few tweets and a few articles crying out against hateful trolls and neckbeards. Most of this is left to reverberate within the echo chamber of Twitter and any real action needed against the rising alt-right radicalization within Star Wars fandom is not even a thought.

The Targeting of Progressive and Diverse Creatives

As Gamergate demonstrated, no caustic battle against culture is targeting simply the culture itself. There is always a human cost attached. Similar attacks experienced by Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, and Brianna Wu happened to the creatives involved in the Star Wars sequel trilogy to various degrees including a film director, two authors, a show host, three actors, and an executive. This list is not exhaustive. Any new creator or any woman, in particular, in a creative role that is hired by Lucasfilm who is likely to create content alt-right groups see as antithetical to traditional white Christian culture will become a target.

ComicArtistPro Secrets (Ethan Van Sciver) on his second Parler account named after his comic book “Cyberfrog:Bloodhoney” laughs at a death threat he made towards Kathleen Kennedy
An example of the tweets that sent racist harassment towards Ireland and Arielle
Posobiec, whose rise in the alt-right is heavily tied to white supremacists and neo-nazis, falsely spreads racist narrative on Twitter
In a deleted Periscope, Posobiec supports the firing of Wendig
(L) A comicsgate supporter gives credit to Comicsgate for the firing of Wendig; (R) Posobiec spreads old tweets from Gunn, which eventually lead to the Guardians of the Galaxy director being fired by Marvel
An example of hateful comments underneath Tran’s Instagram posts
Alt-right personality posts misogynistic tweet about Tran
Rose Tico’s Wookiepedia page is edited to include racist language and ableist slurs and tells Tran’s character to die.
ComicArtistPro Secrets (Ethan Van Sciver) edits a 1 hour video slicing through Kelly Marie Tran’s action figure

Mission Completed: The Rise of Skywalker Retcons The Last Jedi

In December 2019, after 4 years of highly coordinated racist and sexist hate against the trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker was released in theaters and noticeably retconned Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi.

What We Never Learned From Gamergate

It’s very easy to roll your eyes and say that everything I have written here is overblown. These are simply movies. You pay your money, you have your opinion, and you go home. Rinse and repeat. But, the reality is that we live in a world where a few very intelligent people are counting on you to think that way. And they will use that complacency to build the world that they want.

About The Author

Rewriting Ripley is a bi-weekly podcast on feminism and fandom in the age of social media hosted by Katie and Lady V.

Methodology

Twitter Analysis

All twitter data was collected using a python script from Github that leveraged Twitter’s API. This article leverages three data sets:

  1. A historical sample of tweets mentioning “#LastJediAwful.” Tweets mentioning “Last Jedi Awful” were removed from the data to focus on the hashtag. Remaining tweets included 6,436 tweets between December 29th, 2017 to February 13, 2021. Data is correct as of February 13, 2021.
  2. A historical sample of tweets mentioning “#BoycottSolo.” Tweets mentioning “Boycott Solo” were removed from the data to focus on the hashtag. Remaining tweets included 4,713 tweets between January 7th, 2018 to February 12, 2021. Data is correct as of February 12, 2021.

YouTube Analysis

All YouTube titles were scraped using an AI technique from the web scraping tool Scrapestorm. Scrapestorm identifies all information that comes up in a YouTube search and extracts that information into an exportable file (csv). This means that titles are scraped according to the algorithm and the titles within the number of pages that appear in a search are exported. If a video does not appear in a search for the search term (i.e. “The Last Jedi”), then it has not been included in this analysis. Therefore, this analysis does not include every YouTube video that mentioned a search term.

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Rewriting Ripley

Rewriting Ripley

A podcast on feminism and fandom in the age of social media