"Star Wars" Actor Says He Still Gets Death Threats Over His Character
“I had people come to me and say, 'You destroyed my childhood.'"
In 1999, audiences met a new Star Wars addition who would soon become one of most hated movie characters of all time: Jar Jar Binks. The CGI character first appeared in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and was portrayed by actor Ahmed Best, who performed the role using motion capture technology. Jar Jar Binks was meant to be comic relief in prequel to the original Star Wars trilogy, but the backlash to the character was swift, and negative opinions ranged in seriousness, from those who found the Gungan annoying to those who thought that he promoted racist stereotypes.
Best has defended his character over the years and also opened up about how the backlash hurt him, personally—even though his face wasn't shown in the films. The actor, who was 25 when he was cast in the film, has even said that he continued to receive death threats years after the character made his debut. Read on to find out more about the now-48-year-old actor and his disturbing experience with Star Wars.
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Best received death threats for playing Jar Jar.
In a 2017 interview with Wired, Best opened up about playing the CGI character, included being cast after he was spotted performing in the show Stomp. He was excited to be part of the film and was already a fan of Star Wars, but everything changed after the movie came out.
"I had death threats through the internet," Best said. "I had people come to me and say, 'You destroyed my childhood.' That's difficult for a 25-year-old to hear."
He added, "There were a lot of tears, there was a lot of pain, there was a lot of [expletive] I had to deal with. Everybody else went on. Everybody else worked. Everybody else was accepted by the zeitgeist."
The tough times didn't end there.
Best has also spoken out about feeling like he didn't want to lie anymore amid the backlash. In a video for Participant in 2019, Best said, "The reason why I almost ended my life on the Brooklyn Bridge is because 20 years ago I played Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars. I faced a media backlash that really made me feel like my life was over."
He explained, "There was just so much hate and anger and venom directed at me, and I took it personally. A lot of times I hear people say, 'We're not talking about you, we're talking about Jar Jar.' You're talking about me. I put a lot of me into that work, and if you talk to any artist who really cares about their work, you're talking about them."
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He took one aspect of the criticism the hardest.
Best explained in the Participant video that he was most affected by claims that Jar Jar was a racist caricature. The character has been described by many as a Jamaican stereotype and even compared to minstrel shows. While the character's appearance was computer generated along with his motion captured performance, Best provided the unique voice that some viewers found offensive.
"Growing up, being Black, and wanting to be an artist—which is a very challenging and brave thing to do—it's not easy," he said. "We're always faced as Black artists with this idea of being a sellout. We have our guard up when it comes to being portrayed as an Uncle Tom, a racist stereotype, or anything that makes you, as a Black person, look less than. It hit me. It came right for me. I was called every racially stereotype you can imagine. There was this criticism of being this Jamaican, broken dialect, which was offensive because I'm of West Indian descent—I'm not Jamaican. It was debilitating. I didn't know how to respond."
He's defended the character.
In his interview with Wired, Best addressed the claims of racism in Jar Jar's characterization, saying, "I was shocked with the racial implications, but always knew they had little to no merit."
Of his portrayal, he said, "I did my job. I was believable enough for you to believe that this character existed. [Director] George [Lucas] said do a thing, I did a thing, you know what I mean? The fact that you hate Jar Jar—I still did the job."
He also said of the character, "There is a heart to Jar Jar that people don't really get. He is the most loyal character in Star Wars ever." But, he added, "The jokes take over, and the slapstick takes over, and the physical comedy takes over … He was a little bit on the nose."
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Not everyone hated Jar Jar Binks.
Best has said that children have always been the fans who responded most positively to his character. In 2020, he hosted the children's game show Star Wars: Jedi Temple Challenge and explained why he took the job in an interview with Star Wars Insider.
"That's one of the reasons why I said yes to doing the show. Kids always gave me the positivity I looked for when I was playing Jar Jar," he said. "I always got great responses from children, so I wanted to give something back to them."
In addition to hosting Jedi Temple Challenge, Best remained part of Star Wars through voicing Jar Jar for other Star Wars projects, including video games and the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. These days, he also works as a podcaster, actor, voiceover actor, and associate theater director.