Let’s Talk About Rosario Dawson and Trans Rights…
In which we discuss trans rights, 'The Mandalorian', and how to be a better ally.
I’ve been wrestling with how to approach the subject of Rosario Dawson for months now, even going so far as abandoning this site for a while in order to avoid dealing with the mixed reactions to her role on The Mandalorian. Heck, I’m still working through my own mixed feelings towards her and her interpretation of Ahsoka. She did a commendable job of bringing one of my favourite Star Wars characters into live action and I have a huge respect for her philanthropic efforts but it was hard to fully enjoy this milestone moment knowing that there were some troubling allegations hanging over her head and that so many fans were devastated that an alleged transphobe had been cast in the role.
As a cisgender fan of certain privilege, I don’t think it’s my place to lecture people on the need to separate art from the artist but I do feel that it’s my responsibility to help fellow cisgender fans understand why our transgender and nonbinary peers haven’t been able to feel excited about seeing their beloved heroine make the leap from animation to live action and why they feel that they are being pushed out of the fan community. After all, what’s the point of having an online platform if you don’t use it for good?
So, let’s talk about Rosario Dawson and why there has been so much controversy (and anguish) ever since the first rumours of her being cast as Ahsoka Tano in The Mandalorian began to surface on the internet.
Update: The case was dismissed on May 21, 2021, but I urge fans to read the rest of this article, or at least certain sections of it, because the tips on how to become a better ally to the trans community still apply and transphobia is still an issue that this fandom needs to address. While I have given Ms Dawson the benefit of the doubt and am looking forward to seeing her again in the upcoming live-action series, let’s try to remain empathetic to trans fans’ concerns and try to make this fandom a little more inclusive and safe for them.
My article Ahsoka Tano Fans Speak Up About Transphobia in Fandom may help you understand why this has been such a difficult experience for the trans and non-binary community.
What’s the Story So Far?
On October 22, 2019, NBC News reported that a transgender man named Dedrek Finley had filed a lawsuit against Rosario Dawson and her family alleging that he had been subjected to transphobic harassment and assault while he was working for them in Los Angeles and living in an apartment leased by Rosario’s uncle. Finley, who had been a friend of the family’s for twenty or so years, spoke out about his experience in an exclusive interview with Out Magazine a few weeks later, where he detailed the events that led to the lawsuit and the problems he had faced as a transgender man cut off from his support system back home in New York. He also talked about the high rates of housing discrimination faced by trans people (one in five individuals have been homeless at some point in their lives) and the need for greater trans awareness and inclusion.
The Dawson family did not respond to the media’s requests for comment about the allegations and in the midst of it all, Rosario Dawson was offered the role of Ahsoka Tano in the second season of The Mandalorian. A lot of Star Wars fans were unaware of the allegations and lawsuit until rumours began to surface about Dawson’s involvement in the hit series. People began to discover and share links to the aforementioned NBC News article and the allegations against Dawson not only put a damper on the casting rumours but also gave transgender fans and their allies cause for concern. With fellow Mandalorian actress Gina Carano mocking the use of pronouns and making her political beliefs known via social media in the lead-up to the new season, a growing number of fans felt that the Star Wars fan community was no longer an inclusive and safe space for transgender fans, especially since Lucasfilm and Disney had remained silent throughout all of this.
In an effort to raise awareness of trans rights, Maggie Lovitt (Star Wars Friends Podcast/Your Money Geek), Candace Kaw (The Geeky Waffle), and Eric Eilersen (Youtini/The Living Force Podcast) launched the fundraiser event “Trans Rights are Human Rights: This is the Way” to raise money for the Transgender Law Center. By the time the fundraiser ended on December 20, the fan community had raised nearly $19,000 for the civil rights organisation.
On November 27, 2020, Ahsoka Tano made her live-action debut in “Chapter 13: The Jedi” and was, as many had long suspected, played by none other than Rosario Dawson. In the months leading up to her debut, there had been few (if any) updates about the ongoing lawsuit so when Vanity Fair’s exclusive interview with Rosario was published mere days later, it was hard not to view it as a conveniently-timed form of “damage control”. Barely two weeks later, Lucasfilm and Disney announced a new live-action limited series revolving around Ahsoka Tano starring, you guessed it, Rosario Dawson. You can’t really blame people for having lingering doubts about Rosario’s presumed innocence. Trust me, I would love to believe that the allegations are false or misrepresented but we can’t just ignore these glaring coincidences or brush aside a victim of transphobic discrimination just because she’s a popular actress playing an immensely popular Star Wars heroine.
The case was still ongoing at the time of writing – it has since been dismissed – but if you’re interested in following it, you can follow its progress and learn more about the case over on Trellis. While I do believe that people should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, the fact remains that the American legal system is notorious for favouring the wealthy and privileged and that the economic and social disparity between Finley and Dawson is astronomical. As some have pointed out, a verdict of “not guilty” is not necessarily a sign of innocence in a country where celebrities can wield considerable influence in court.
Update: The case against the Dawson family was dismissed on May 21, 2021, as detailed in this Vanity Fair article. The article suggests that Mr Finley was unable or unwilling to provide certain documentation to the court, so the court moved to dismiss the remaining charges against the actress and her mother. Readers are free to draw their own conclusions and decide for themselves whether or not they will watch (or boycott) the upcoming live-action series.
The fact of the matter is, none of us were there to witness these incidents and we need to remember that most countries still have a long way to go to safeguard and protect trans rights. Victims of transphobic abuse have a right to be believed. Given Dawson’s long history of political activism, philanthropy, and support for the LGBTQ+ community, it also seemed fair to give her the benefit of the doubt. No matter how you look at it, even if the allegations were fabricated, this whole affair has affected people’s enjoyment of the series and left transgender fans feeling disenfranchised and vulnerable to online harassment. The damage has been done.
Representation Matters… But So Do Trans Rights.
Depending on who you ask, Rosario Dawson’s casting is a “win” in terms of on-screen representation. Dawson is of Puerto Rican and Afro-Cuban descent and Star Wars – particularly on-screen Star Wars – has had a very mixed record when it comes to casting women of colour in its productions and handling them with care. So, naturally, there are those who are thrilled to see a member of their community playing a role within the Star Wars universe, especially one as well-loved as Ahsoka Tano.
That’s not to say that they aren’t allowed to celebrate that fact but it may strike some as tone-deaf when that very same casting has caused the transgender community (and many of their friends and allies) so much pain and distress. In their eyes, Disney and Lucasfilm’s decision to cast someone who was involved in an alleged transphobic attack as Ahsoka, a character known for fighting for social justice, went against everything that character stood for. This was particularly heart-breaking for those who have often sought refuge in their favourite fictional universe or consider Ahsoka their comfort character. People like Justice Schiappa, who credits Ahsoka for giving her the strength to come out as trans. Not everyone is able or willing to separate the art from the artist and it can be hard for cisgender fans to understand why this is “such a big deal”. The best many of us can do is listen to what our transgender friends have to say about the matter, try to empathise with them, and see what we can do to become better allies.
Should Star Wars Fans Boycott the Upcoming TV Series?
As you may already know, a limited Disney+ TV series was announced in December and Rosario Dawson will be reprising her role as the live-action Ahsoka Tano. This has understandably upset many long-time Ahsoka fans who were expecting an animated follow-up to Star Wars Rebels. But it has been doubly distressing to the character’s transgender fanbase who were hoping that Rosario’s stint as Ahsoka would be a one-time gig. Hearing that Ahsoka’s story would continue in live action and not animation was a massive blow to fans of the animated series and some fans, quite understandably, don’t want to support a series led by someone who may or may not be guilty of being involved in a transphobic attack. As I mentioned earlier, a not-guilty verdict does not always equal innocence, especially in a legal system that favours the rich and powerful. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt is always easier when you’re not part of a marginalised community.
So should you boycott the upcoming series? Well, no. Unless you want to, of course. I firmly believe that it’s up to every fan to decide for themselves whether or not they want to support the series or its creative team. Everyone will have their reasons for wanting to watch the series (or not) and their decision should be respected. No one should be shamed or made to feel guilty for wanting to watch Star Wars: Ahsoka but people should also not be mocked or harassed if they choose to boycott it. Accept that Rosario might not be someone’s Ahsoka and don’t push anyone to defend their opinion. Do not give others a hard time, especially if you don’t know what that person’s personal circumstances may be.
If you do decide to support the series, there are still a few things you can do to be a more sensitive and caring ally. You will find a list of tips and recommendations later in the article.
How Will All Things Ahsoka Handle Rosario Dawson/Star Wars: Ahsoka Content?
I’ll cut straight to the chase: I will be reporting on the upcoming Disney+ series as I would any other Ahsoka-related project and I will not enforce a blanket ban on content featuring Rosario Dawson either here or on the site’s social media channels, especially now that the case against her has been dismissed. But I do understand that some readers may prefer not to read any content that focuses on Ms Dawson or her work, so there are a few measures I can take to accommodate their needs.
1) Limiting the use of pictures of Rosario Dawson (in costume or otherwise) as featured images on the All Things Ahsoka homepage or as preview thumbnails on our social media channels. Images of her will be used within the articles themselves but this way, my social media followers and readers will have the option to choose whether or not they want to click through to view this content.
2) Keeping things strictly business. That is, reporting on the series itself and eventually reviewing it but I might choose to avoid sharing interviews or think pieces about Rosario’s work on Star Wars. I will use my best judgement to decide what really needs to be posted on this site and what doesn’t.
3) Using a specific hashtag on social media, #StarWarsAhsoka, when I share any content dealing with the upcoming series. That way, my social media followers have the option of muting the hashtag to keep those stories off their timelines.
Please keep in mind that these measures are subject to review and that I may decide to reverse my decision at any given time. No offence will be taken should you choose to stop supporting this site or decide to unfollow the site’s social media accounts. Curate your online experience accordingly.
That said, I will continue to share fan art and other fan-created content based on Chapter 13 of The Mandalorian or Star Wars: Ahsoka. One of the reasons I created this site was to showcase Ahsoka Tano’s diverse and talented fanbase and I feel it would be unfair to penalise fans for creating art or costumes based on Rosario’s Ahsoka. I will, however, continue to vet creators and do my utmost to avoid featuring any work created by fans who are actively transphobic, racist, or aligned with fan communities known for targeting minorities and the LGBTQ+ community.
I Don’t Want to Boycott Anything But I Still Want to Help Somehow
There are a few ways you can be a better ally and stand up for trans rights even if you do decide to watch Star Wars: Ahsoka. This isn’t about absolving yourself of any guilt you might feel; it’s about understanding why this whole situation has been so upsetting for transgender fans and how you can make them feel safer and more welcome within fandom circles. I’ve recommended a few ways you can do this but this is not a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination. Like you, I’m still learning and making the occasional misstep along the way.
1) Educate yourself on trans rights and the issues affecting the transgender community – The first step to being a better ally is to learn more about the various challenges and forms of discrimination that transgender people face every day. One of the most comprehensive guides out there is Straight for Equality’s Guide to Being a Trans Ally, which includes a glossary of terms, a number of personal stories, and tips for being a force for trans inclusion. If you’re a journalist or blogger, you might want to check out Transgender Europe’s Guide for Journalists for advice on how to cover stories about trans people or trans rights in a fair and respectful manner. You can also find a plethora of resources over on the Straight for Equality, All About Trans and GLAAD Transgender Media Program sites.
2) Make a donation to a transgender rights organisation of your choosing – Earlier I mentioned the “Trans Rights are Human Rights: This is the Way” campaign that was launched in the wake of Ms Carano’s insensitive remarks about preferred pronouns. Some fans donated money each time the actress appeared in an episode of The Mandalorian season 2 and some are even considering launching a similar campaign once Star Wars: Ahsoka is released on Disney+. But donations to trans rights organisations are welcome at any time. A lot of the more recent fandom fundraisers have raised money for charities based in the USA so I’ve put together a list of trans rights and trans awareness organisations from around the world to better reflect the Star Wars fandom’s global fanbase. This is by no means a complete list of relevant organisations but it’s a start.
- Transgender Law Center (USA)
- National Center for Transgender Equality (USA)
- Mermaids (United Kingdom)
- Transgender Europe/TGEU (European Union)
- Transcend (Australia)
- Asia Pacific Transgender Network (Asia/Pacific)
- Gender DynamiX (South Africa)
- GATE (Global)
- ILGA World (Global)
3) Read articles about people’s experiences of being transgender in fandom spaces – We’d like to think that fandom is inclusive and welcoming but the truth is, racism and bigotry are fairly rampant and online harassment is an all-too-common occurrence. Empathy is the best tool in our fight for a more inclusive fan community and reading about transgender fans’ lived experiences can go a long way in helping us achieve that goal. In her article “We need to talk about The Mandalorian and transphobia”, Avery Kaplan highlights the lack of trans representation in the Star Wars universe and how “rival” franchise Star Trek is lightyears ahead when it comes to acknowledging the existence of trans people. Writer and storyteller Justice Schiappa’s article “The Dark Rises and the Light to Meet It: Fandom, Fulcrum, and the Transphobe Triumvirate” examines transphobia and racism in fandom and the lack of official support for the transgender community from the Lucasfilm and Disney social media accounts. If you want to know the various challenges faced by trans and genderfluid cosplayers, Alenka Figa’s 2015 article for The Mary Sue is a decent start. The blog Fandoms Hate Queer People can also offer some insights into the various ways fandoms and the media discriminate against the LGBTQ+community. And while it isn’t an article, the Looking for Leia episode “Where We See Ourselves” might help people better understand the concept of queer representation.
4) Listen to fandom podcasts with trans hosts and/or guest speakers – You could also consider listening to podcasts that analyse Star Wars through a queer or trans lens. At the time of writing, I hadn’t been able to track down many podcasts in which trans fans discuss this particular episode of The Mandalorian but a few suggestions are this episode of Nerdist News Talks Back, in which trans fan Riley Silverman talks about her mixed feelings about the episode and Rosario’s interpretation of Ahsoka, and Rogue Podron’s review of “The Jedi”, which also addresses the issue of transphobia in fandom circles. The latter show won’t appeal to everyone and the discussion doesn’t really begin until 07:45 into the episode but it does raise some interesting points to reflect on.
5) Elevate trans voices and support trans creators whenever you can – Whether it’s sharing an article written by a transgender fan or purchasing some of their fan-made merch, take a moment to reflect on whether or not you’re doing enough to support trans creators. Not just during Pride Month or Transgender Awareness Week but throughout the year. Recommend their podcasts to your friends and followers. Share their Twitter threads about their fandom experiences. Promote fandom fundraiser events that benefit trans rights organisations. Support their pet projects, fandom-related or otherwise. If you run a blog, podcast, or YouTube channel, invite transgender fans to write for you or be guests on your show. Fans from marginalised communities often have to fight for room at the table and struggle to get their voices heard. You can help them reach a wider audience and sometimes all it takes is a simple retweet.
6) Speak up and defend your transgender friends if they are being targeted or harassed online – If you see people being transphobic on social media, don’t use mute or block them but report them. Call this behaviour out. Transphobia is not a difference of opinion but a form of dehumanisation that robs a marginalised group of their human rights. It’s fine to tweet out the occasional tweet reminding people that #TransRightsAreHumanRights but hashtag activism only goes so far. Take action.
The key thing is to listen. Find out what transgender fans have to say about the situation and, if necessary, ask them how you can help make them feel welcome and appreciated. Maybe there’s a fundraiser you can donate money towards or promote on your social media accounts. Maybe they just want you to use hashtags in your tweets about a show so that they can mute them accordingly. Maybe they would like you to speak up about Lucasfilm and Disney’s refusal to address these concerns or hold the companies accountable for any questionable casting decisions in future. Quite honestly, there are no simple, straightforward answers. The onus is on you to educate yourself and figure out how you can use your voice (or platform) for good.
I’m a Transgender Fan With Opinions to Share But I Don’t Have a Podcast or Blog. Can You Help Me?
Absolutely! If you would like to write an article about your thoughts on this complex and hurtful issue but don’t have anywhere to publish it, I’d be happy to publish your work on this site and help you reach a wider audience. Please note, however, that this is a fan-run website so I will not be able to offer any form of compensation, monetary or otherwise. All Things Ahsoka doesn’t run a podcast or have a YouTube channel so I’m afraid I can only accept written submissions at this time.
This offer isn’t just open to those who don’t have their own site, podcast, or YouTube channel. If you would like me to promote your content on this site and its social media channels, feel free to let me know! All Things Ahsoka isn’t the largest platform out there but it’s available for those who need it.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. It may be overdue and inadequate but I assure you my heart is in the right place. It’s been difficult seeing people I care about feeling so hurt and ostracised, especially when I could have made more of a concerted effort to tone down my enthusiasm and been more sensitive to their plight. Any feedback on this article would be welcome as there are undoubtedly important points I may have missed or misinterpreted. This is a learning process for me and many of my readers and I’d be interested to hear what improvements can be made.
Please note that there will be a follow-up article in the coming weeks that will explore individual fans’ opinions and experiences in greater depth. I will be approaching potential interested parties to see if they are willing to share their experiences with me and, hopefully, there will be enough of a response for an in-depth article. And if you’re an interested party, please get in touch! I would love to hear from you.
Updated on May 27, 2021.
Looking for even more Ahsoka Tano fan art, cosplay photos, opinion pieces, memes, and merchandise tips? Then come find me over on Twitter: @AllThingsAhsoka!
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