Star Wars Actor Ahmed Best Opens Up About How Jar Jar Backlash Almost Drove Him To Suicide

Ahmed Best, but you may know him as jar Jar Binks. (Image: Soul Pancake, YouTube)

Last winter, actor Ahmed Best—who first portrayed Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace when he was a 25-year-old - took to his Twitter account to reflect on the movie’s upcoming 20th anniversary. But that remembrance included how fans’ vitriolic backlash to his performance nearly drove him to kill himself.

While dragging Jar Jar and The Phantom Menace has become something of a popular joke within Star Wars fandom, the impact that harassment from the community had on Best’s mental well being is something that cannot and should not be downplayed.

As a young actor living in New York City at the time, becoming part of one of the world’s most beloved film franchises in Hollywood history was the opportunity of a lifetime. While filming, Best was all but certain that the role was going to open up doors for him.

But then The Phantom Menace opened in theatres, audiences met Jar Jar Binks, and Star Wars fans—notoriously resistant to change and new things being introduced into the franchise - targeted Best for being part of what “ruined” the movie and (through the odd logic of an overly-invested fandom) their collective childhoods.

But the response to Best’s performance was more than mere criticisms or distaste for a character who was clearly meant to appeal to children. Almost immediately it took on violent, often racist overtones that Best says in a new video about that point in his life, cut him deeply and pushed him into a dark place:

“I was just alone and the depression hit me. Hard. I was just broken. The only think I could think of to make me feel better was to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. But this time when I walked across the bridge, I didn’t see the lights of Manhattan.

I didn’t see the towers [or] the potential of hard work and ingenuity. I didn’t see anything; I just saw a fog. I felt tired of having to explain myself. I felt tired of having to defend myself and defend my work. I felt tired of having to fight back against racism and the racial stereotypes. I just wanted to play a part.”

In the years since Best’s issues with Star Wars, similar incidents have driven other actors involved with the movies like Kelly Marie Tran and Daisy Ridley to take measures to protect themselves against those who feel that their love of the franchise justifies their desire to harass people.

Hopefully Best speaking out and letting others understand that the people who bring these characters to life are, in fact, people themselves whose humanity deserves respect, will make a positive impact.

If you struggle with suicidal thoughts please call Lifeline Australia at 13 11 14.


Comments

    I really can't think of anyone who hated jar jar simply because of the acting..?
    It was the terrible writing and the entire concept of jar jar that truly sucked.

      Yep, everything about Jar-Jar was an absolute flaming pile of shit, but I certainly don't blame this guy for any of it. I lay 100% of the blame at the feet of George Lucas.

      I don't think the rabid minority that lash out like this went after him because he acted it badly. They attacked him merely for the fact that he was the voice actor.

      It's a becoming a bit of a recurring narrative to associate criticism with the actor and not the art. It's done so that criticism becomes personal and that you become an asshole for even mentioning it.

      For example, if you mention anything bad about The Last Jedi it'll take about 3 nanosecomds before you're characterised as a misogynistic troll.

        I don't know that what you're saying has anything to do with what happened to this guy. He was actively pursued by trolls and harassed with racial slurs for participating in Episode I as Jar Jar because some people just take it too far. Instead of being hyper-defensive about whether people include you in the company of racist internet trolls, why not think about what this guy went through and how awareness of that is an important element of ensuring it doesn't happen again.
        TL;DR - You may not be a troll, but you are probably a narcissist.

        I have criticised The Last Jedi publically a bunch of times. I've criticised the pacing, how large sections of the movie seemed irrelevant and only there to give all the characters something to do, and how the slow speed chase didn't feel like it had stakes when people kept coming and going.

        I've never been equated with a racist or a misogynist. Perhaps if this keeps happening to you it could be worth taking another look at what you wrote?

        No you don't.

        You get called a misogynyst troll when you blame it on the fact that there are women in the film and not the fact that Rian was a shit tier director with no understanding of characters like Luke Skywalker.

        Ghostbusters reboot falls in the same category. Those that criticise the movie are often labeled misogynistic pigs despite it having nothing to do with being all female. The fact is it's a shitty movie because of the terrible script, pacing and screenplay.

          I don't think any group of actors or actresses could have saved the Ghostbusters reboot. On the other hand I thought Ocean's 8 was fantastic. It wasn't a reboot, it was well paced and written. These movies are following an all male cast, with an all female cast but nobody says bad things about Ocean's 8. Maybe one day people will be able to accept the fact that Ghostbusters Answer the Call was a bad movie, because of the script not because of sexism or misogyny.

          I can say without seeing it, Holmes and Watson with Will Ferrell and John C Reilly sucks and everybody just says yeah. I'm not against men, I don't have a hatred for the Script Writer or Director.

          Jar Jar Binks only purpose was to do something stupid for laughs.

      I hated Jar jar as a *character* for precisely the reasons you stated. I certainly didn't hate the actor behind the animated image though. It's not like it was his choice how to play the character. That would be the director and writer who are to blame. It's the same with the hate for Rose in Last Jedi. Again it's nothing the actor can control.

      It's a pity fans can't make that distinction :(

    I remember at the time that the 'racist' card played by people that found the depictions of the Gungan and Trade Federation being racist stereotypes of blacks and asians. I never came across anything against the actor themselves, which isn't to say it didn't happen since people suck.

      Yeah, I certainly don't remember anything other than what you said (that the characters were racist), but maybe I wasn't on the 'popular' bulletin boards and forums that were made up by the same folks who know think that Reddit + Twitter = The Internet, the only place where social consensus lives.

      Note: The fact that I didn't see it, here in Australia, clearly doesn't mean shit. Fact is: It clearly happened, the dude copped it, and it fucked him up. And that's shitty, and we're seeing it still happening, and it shouldn't.

    Saw TPM on opening night. Loved it, still do. Had no problem with Jar Jar. I was 22 at the time, and have lived Star Wars since I saw TESB as a pre schooler in its initial release. I've been told by people they've "lost respect" for me, and far worse over the years.

    I remember 1999 as the year toxicity went mainstream. Sure, hate the movie, it's your call. But attack people for enjoying an old school space adventure? Great form.

    The misguided hatred thrown at Ahmed (and Jake Lloyd, amongst others) was appalling - really just a sneak peek of where this big old internet thing was headed.
    Great family film. Clunky, big, and very much, stylistically- in its own time. Which besides Solo, I couldn't say about any of the current films. Obviously, just one persons (minority) opinion.

      You must be about the only other person on the planet who seemed to enjoy "Solo"
      I really liked that it didn't feel as constrained as some of the more recent movies, which I feel are slowly being crippled due to needing to stick to certain, well established formulas.
      I also really loved the idea of a heist film set in the Star Wars universe.
      Two of my favourite genres, mashed up-heist films and sci-fi.
      I personally (I know this will probably be an unpopular opinion too) would love to see more stories about how the little people survive in that universe.
      Not everyone can be a Jedi. Someone has to farm food etc.
      I want stories about people surviving in the cracks...
      Anyway, that's my two cents!

        Star wars the first 3 were essentially scifi car chase movies.

        The main problem I had with Solo was the sound just seemed kind of off and muffled, nothing really felt like it had a proper impact. And I think the lighting seemed kind of odd too, from memory? Otherwise liked it.

        Solo is one of the best Star Wars films in my opinion. It suffered from the fact that it was released after the steaming pile that was The Last Jedi. Despite being a far superior movie it made no money because TLJ was so divisive.
        I can't speak for the majority, but everyone I've spoken to really enjoyed Solo.

        I enjoyed Solo, just as much the second time as the first. It's not the greatest film of all time, sure, but I thought the cast was fantastic and the plot fun.
        I agree that it would be good to see more stories that aren't directly tied to the main trilogy - why, in this giant galaxy is every person two degrees of separation away from Darth Vader etc.?

        I thought Solo was constrained and formulaic. There would be cross and double cross, he'd become the reluctant hero, etc. It's like they had a checkbox of items to tick off and they did it, meet chewy *tick*, meet Lando *tick*, get the Falcon *tick*, make the Kessel Run *tick*.

        That's not to say I didn't enjoy it. It was still a fun movie, but it's flawed. And I'm sorry but finding a young actor to replace Harrison Ford is a nigh impossible task. Aiden may have done a decent job but, well he's just not Ford. I do however think he'd be a great young Denis Quaid if they ever need that job filled.

      The problem with Jake Lloyd is the problem with most child actors - they're kids. They literally don't have the years (or decades) of experience with the craft that older actors do. It's really up to the director to coax out the right performance and if it's not quite right try again.

      As for TPM I think a lot of the hate was directed at a couple things. Jar Jar, midiclorians and Jake's performance and the excessive CGI. Personally I would have looked a lot more favourably on the movie if they had tweaked it just slightly. Dialled back Jar Jar a little or removed the midiclorian scene entirely and it might have helped.

      I really hated that it overused CGI, particularly motion blur. It felt like he had a new toy and wanted to play with it the whole time. Sure there is stuff that needs CGI, but how much better have the last couple movies looked where they've gone back to the blend between CGI and animatronics and cool props.

      As for the fun family film, I think it failed there as it had long periods of exposition that bored the kids interspersed with action set pieces. You could watch eyes glaze over every ten minutes or so.

      Solo is a different beast and deserves it's own thread :P

        Everyone knows that intergalactic politics, senate voting rules and trade disputes are enthralling topics for kids!

        Didn't Lucas once say that if he could have done the movies in CG completely and not have any live actors he would have been a lot happier?

        Something to do with with his inability to interact with people or something

        Last edited 08/01/19 6:58 pm

          There's no problem with doing a completely CGI movie, after all that's what the Pixar movies are. In some ways that might have been better. Just get some voice actors and go nuts.

      I'm glad someone else has noticed remembering "before" toxicity and raging on the internet was the norm, it's almost hard to imagine but here was a time when creative freedoms were above all else. Movies, films and games had the ability to control their IP without bending to please the masses.. Ahh how I miss those days.

      Last edited 08/01/19 10:46 pm

    Poor guy. People just suck.
    Sure, I found Jar Jar annoying when I first saw Phantom Menace. But what kind of a-hole would I be to attack the actor?

    Just like the guy who played Joffrey from Game of Thrones got bashed on the street. People are stupid.

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