UPDATE: The article was posted at 3:45pm. At 6:15pm, 20th Century Fox announced that Kian Lawley has been fired and the role of Chris will be reshot.
**Hi! I’m Kait. These opinions are my own. The Starr side-eye header, while only a bit relevant to what’s discussed within, was added to reflect my mood.**
Once upon a time, Angie Thomas wrote a celebrated, bestselling YA novel called The Hate U Give about a young black woman being gaslighted and blamed for the horrendous, racially motivated decisions of a white man. It was heralded as eye-opening and real, and it was stanned all across the social media landscape.
Shortly thereafter, in a stunning act of cognitive dissonance, that same social media landscape gaslighted and blamed Angie Thomas for the horrendous, racially motivated decisions of a white man. Congratulations, we’ve learned nothing.
Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, which has been a New York Times bestseller since its release (currently #1), was adapted into a movie. It filmed in the fall and, as of right now, we’re just waiting on promo and release details. One important role in that movie is Chris, Starr’s white prep school boyfriend from whom she withholds her trauma for most of the novel, knowing that he can never fully understand the unique troubles that face her as a person of color. But when Chris finds out the truth, he’s understanding and there for Starr. He’s ignorant to many facets of her life, but he’s supportive and actually trying. The character is by no means perfect, but he’s the representation of a white person working in the right direction in the face of racial tensions.
Kian Lawley was cast in the role of Chris.
A couple weeks ago, a short but potent mess of a video hit the web. In said trainwreck, Kian Lawley spouts off a series of black stereotypes and pointedly says the n-word a few times to the camera, all while his friends (also well-known YouTubers) laugh. We’re not going to post the video here, but if you need proof, Google is your friend.
Rumor is, the video is not super recent. It doesn’t matter.
Kian Lawley then went from YouTube to small roles in film and television. His role in The Hate U Give could be categorized as a breakout role, compared to his past filmography. And it’s based on a role written by a black woman, crafted with the help of a black director, and in collaboration with black cast mates. It’s his biggest role to date, in which he profits off black culture… while a video of him mocking black culture sat in the corner of the Internet and he hoped no one would ever notice.
After the video broke, Angie Thomas addressed her feelings on the incident without actually calling out Kian or giving the details, which was a really classy thing to do, in my opinion. She made it clear that she was aware of the video, that she was hurt and frustrated, and that she was having some hard discussions in a more private setting. There are many possibilities for going this route, the most obvious of which is she was personally hurt and the intricate details of her pain are none of our damn business. She doesn’t owe us that.
Fans worried about the movie because we want it to do well. We had questions. Can he be replaced? (Answer: Probably not. Ridley Scott recently did it with a finished film, but Ridley Scott had a unholy amount of money to play around with.) Can the conversation around Chris’s character still be positive if the actor delivering that message is so hypocritical? How can we have a conversation that betters the movie-going experience? Truthfully, I don’t know and I’m really glad I’m not on the PR team that has to deal with that. But that’s just the business aspect of it and not really the bigger picture.
Angie Thomas was angry. She was upset. She had every right to be. She expressed as much in a perhaps-more-respectful-than-necessary fashion. But that didn’t stop the wolves from descending.
It’s hard to admit that your favorites are problematic. Kian Lawley is problematic. The fact that you love his various forms of entertainment doesn’t change that. He’s a white dude due to profit off black culture while thinking– long after he first started to gain notoriety– that it’s okay to yell racial slurs so long as no one ever finds out. He may have been drunk. He may have been younger. He may feel sorry about it (now that he’s been caught.) Excuses are excuses. And hey, if people were just throwing their apologist excuses at Angie Thomas, that would be infuriating and ridiculous. But wait, there’s more! People were at the ready on social media. They blamed her for being upset, for having an opinion to begin with. Names have been called. Threats have been made. To put it nicely, it’s vile and fraught with subconscious (and flat-out conscious) racism.
Meanwhile, Kian Lawley was silent for weeks. Then he released a positively geared tweet about the power of change and learning from his mistakes. And… no. No! You don’t get to declare yourself changed and absolve yourself.
When I was a teenager, my father always used to respond to my (usually grumpy, pretty insincere) apologies “Don’t say sorry, do something about it.” It pissed me off to no end. As an adult, it makes so much sense (just don’t tell him I said that.) Saying sorry and claiming to have learned a lesson doesn’t actually guarantee anything. If you do something racist, and then want people to believe you’ve learned from that, do some real work to benefit people of color. Sacrifice some of your dignity to have an honest conversation about race and privilege, at the very least. Otherwise, you’re just another person who’s finally sorry at the exact moment in which it’s convenient to be sorry. Time will tell on that portion of the story and I’m not handing not a single pass until then.
It’s time we got over ourselves as fans. When someone does something wrong, call them on it. When someone has been hurt by one of your favorites, don’t try to pin it on the oppressed. They don’t need to “get over it.” As a whole, fandom needs to do better. Part of that means accountability for all of us. Consider what you’re saying, what you’re implying, when you virulently defend someone whose actions actively harm a marginalized group. You can do better. We all can.