Cancelled “C List Youtuber” Lindsay Ellis Tells Her Side of the Story
Video Essayist, fiction author, and YouTube personality Lindsay Ellis unwittingly became the latest “Twitter Villain” last month when one of her Tweets went viral. (In a bad way).
After watching Disney’s latest animated film ‘Raya and the last Dragon’, Ellis Tweeted;
“Also watched Raya and the Last Dragon and I think we need to come up with a name for this genre that is basically Avatar: the Last Airbender reduxes. It’s like half of all YA fantasy published in the last few years anyway.”
People across Twitter interpreted this Tweet as a “straight white person” mashing all Asian fiction content together in a way that suggests media properties can’t be unique if they’re Asian.
Ellis’s opinion of the film wasn’t isolated however, and came days after many other ordinary people, entertainment channels, and film reviewers also drew comparison between ‘Avatar the Last Airbender’ and Disney’s ‘Raya and the last Dragon’. Not because these properties are set in Asian countries and feature Asian characters, but because the plot and many character motivations share a lot of noticeable similarities.
This discord also came at a time when Asian Americans have been dealing with a historic rise of Asian focused hatred in cities across the US.
But while many Asian Americans are choosing to focus their efforts on ending the daily abuses and attacks that are negatively impacting their lives, many Twitter users chose to plant their flag on the Lindsay Ellis hill. Some from the Asian American community themselves, but the vast majority white people who claim to be friends of POC (people of colour).
After deleting her Twitter account and staying silent the past few weeks, Ellis finally chose to speak out in an almost 2 hour YouTube video uploaded today.
Ellis responded to criticism of the viral Tweet that thrust her onto the global stage, and tried to provide context to what she meant. She pointed out some of the other influencers who also drew a comparison between Raya and Avatar, and explained that comparing something to something else is not necissarily disparaging it.
All media is influenced by other media in her opinion, and she even used her own book as an example of media that was influenced by others.
But the subject of the video is far less about her Tweet, and far more focused on the many other “sins” that Twitter users have been dragging out into the public consciousness.
People across the internet have spent the past several weeks compiling threads of screenshots that show Ellis saying or doing something unsavoury over the last 13 years that she has been making online content. The goal of these lists meant to provide justification for piling onto her so viciously.
By providing enormous amounts of alleged proof of wrongdoing, Twitter users feel that they can publicly tell Ellis to kill herself without fear of being called out themselves.. and just the fact that this sentence can be written about society and not be fictional should be a moment in which we all take serious pause.
Ellis spends a large portion of the video addressing many of these lists that contain sins that have been dragged out from her past. From an unfortunate conversation with Mara Wilson, to a “rape rap” she participated in but was uploaded to YouTube without her permission many years ago, Ellis attempted to provide context for it all.
*The rape part is particularly hard to watch, because in talking about the “rape rap” Ellis felt forced to share details about her own experience with sexual assault and her own journey in trying to come to terms with what happened. Needless to say, it was hard to hear.
It seems that early response to the Tweet was good faith critique of her understanding of the film. But this very quickly de-escalated into abusive tirades as more and more people jumped onto the pile and rushed to contribute to the collective noise.
Ellis points out that once meaningful critique has turned into abuse, the voices of those who actually care about Asian American people and their experience is drowned out by the many more people who aren’t interested in the plight of minorities, but are instead simply interested in something that is “performative” in nature.
She points out that these group pile-ons that keep happening on Twitter aren’t the unified voices of a righteous crowd demanding accountability. And we know this because the nature of the tweets are never relevant to the discussion, nor do they keep their language civil or even humane.
Instead, these people are looking to entertain, and are looking to attract the attention of others. So, much like a misguided paparazzo hoping to coerce a celebrity into turning and looking into their camera, these people start shouting abuse in hopes of a reaction. They want others to look their way, they want to entertain and be noticed.
Ellis goes on to point out that if these people really cared about the Asian American experience, they would be advocating year-round. They’d bring attention to charities and support groups that can help people being victimised. They’d also call out politicians and public figures who are Tweeting extremely anti-Asian Tweets every day.
But these people aren’t doing this and will forget about this issue the moment the next Twitter Villain comes along.
Near the end of her video, Ellis reminds us of all of the meaningless apologies made by the people who’ve come before her. The people that were called out and forced to apologise against their will for crimes they didn’t believe they’d committed.
In the end, they never wanted to apologise, they were just willing to do anything to move the conversation away from them and clear a path that would allow them to move on with their lives.
These apologies don’t cause any change, or help anyone heal or live better lives. They simply serve to make us all more cynical and less trusting of apologies of any nature. We’re all left a little more bitter, and a little less trusting of humanity at large.
So Lindsay ends the video saying that she has been liberated from caring. That she won’t put the hundreds of hours she usually does into checking and re-checking her content for words, attitudes, or gestures that could cause offence. She now assumes that offence can come at any time, so it’s best to just ignore it and keep moving forward.
She acknowledges that not everyone is in such a fortunate position to do so however, and wishes that everyone would just stop this sort of behaviour (which, of course, is never going to happen).
So why do we do it? Why do people live to be offended, but don’t do anything to try and help those on whose behalf they claim offence?
We do it because being outraged brings attention, and rational discussion doesn’t. It doesn’t matter the platform, it applies wherever you are. People who yell and scream get noticed, and attract that sweet sweet engagement. So until the underlying infrastructure of the internet is fundamentally re-written, this problem will never go away.
Knowing this doesn’t wrap up the story in a neat bow, and it doesn’t provide a path to righteousness. But the next time you see a Twitter pile on, or yet another half-ass apology video, you’ll know the reasoning that’s really behind it, and why it won’t be the last time.
Engaging in rational discussion and calling people out for being genuinely racist is a good thing. But if you ever find yourself telling someone to go kill themselves, no matter how long your list of justifications; you should know that you most definitely have lost your way.