'Everybody Came For Me': Ahmed Best Addresses Backlash Over Jar Jar Role 25 Years After Phantom Menace

Ahmed Best recalled the painful backlash to the Phantom Menace character that was considered a racial stereotype at the time, but is now embraced by fans.

Published on May 05, 2024  |  09:21 AM IST |  28.1K
Ahmed Best Opens Up About The Backlash Over His Jar Jar Role In Phantom Menace
Ahmed Best (PC: Getty Images)
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Ahmed Best, the actor behind Jar Jar Binks, shared his experiences with backlash for his role in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, which marked a significant milestone in the film industry.

Best, who played the character, was the first to use motion-capture technology in a live-action film. However, he also faced negative feedback and harassment from the fanbase, leading to a period of pause in his acting career. Best's experience highlights the challenges faced by actors in the film industry.

Ahmed Best opens up about his Jar Jar Binks role backlash 

Ahmed Best, known as Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars universe, made history in 1999 and still holds this close to him to this day. In a conversation with PEOPLE, in honor of the 25th anniversary of the first installment in the Star Wars prequels, Best reflected on how his portrayal of the character marked a major milestone in the film industry but also had its downsides.

"Everybody came for me," he recalled, as Phantom Menace returns to theaters for its 25th anniversary. He continued, "I'm the first person to do this kind of work, but I was also the first Black person, Black man."

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Best, despite The Phantom Menace's massive worldwide box office success in 1999, was "ostracized" from similar Hollywood motion-capture work due to widespread character criticism at the time.

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Best, now a 50-year-old educator, father, and co-founder of the AfroRithm Futures Group recalled the pivotal moments leading up to being cast in The Phantom Menace as a young actor in his 20s. He was offered an audition at Lucasfilm's Skywalker Ranch due to his stage skills.

Jar Jar Binks (IMDb)

Best secured the physical role of Jar Jar in Drunken Master. He later debuted the voice role for his cast, including Liam Neeson, Jake Lloyd, Ewan McGregor, and Natalie Portman, at a table read later. 

Best enjoyed working with the cast on the film, completing CGI requirements for the role, and traveling from New York to San Francisco for two years. He referred to Natalie Portman as his little sister and Liam Neeson as a fantastic person to work with. Best and McGregor were on the same wavelength due to their shared love for George Lucas' original trilogy.

The online hate against Jar Jar escalated after its release in 1999. Critics criticized Best for receiving death threats and comparing the character to a racial stereotype, a point Best has previously addressed. The film became the first textbook case of cyberbullying according to Best.

"It really wasn't easy," he recalled of the backlash. The actor shared, "I was very young. I was 26. And it's hard to have this idea that the thing you've been working all your life for, you finally get it and you're finally in the big leagues and the highest level of the game, and you hold your own. All of these years you're just like, 'I belong at the top of the game. I belong at the highest level.'"

"And then all of a sudden people pull the rug out from under you. And I was just like, 'What is happening now?' My career began and ended. I didn't know what to do, and unfortunately there was really no one that could help me, because it was such a unique position; it had never happened before in history," Best continued.

He added, "Especially with the internet component. Now there's an entire field of psychology based on it. But at the time, what do I say to a psychologist? I just tried to do the best job that I could do. But George [Lucas] is untouchable and everybody was untouchable. Who wasn't untouchable? Me. Everyone came at me."

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Ahmed Best (Getty Images)

A brief about Ahmed Best 

Ahmed Best is an American actor, comedian, and musician. He is known for providing the voice and motion capture for the character Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars franchise.

Best likewise collaborated with director George Lucas in three films and seven episodes of the cartoon show, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. He won the Annie Award for Voice Acting in an Animated Television Production for lampooning Jar Jar Binks in Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode II.

In 1994, Ahmed joined the acid jazz group The Jazzhole, where he co-wrote and co-produced three albums. He also co-wrote and co-produced Escape by Bill Evans in 1995. In 1995, Ahmed joined the Obie Award-winning cast of Stomp and toured with the cast throughout the US and Europe.

In 1997, Ahmed was cast as Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars prequel trilogy (1999–2005). He reprised the role on Robot Chicken, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Stephen Colbert's The Colbert Report. Best said he put a lot of himself into the character, causing hostility from audiences and considering suicide. He later appeared with fellow Star Wars alumni on the TV show Big Time Rush.

In 2008, he also wrote, directed, and produced the pilot for a television show called This Can't Be My Life. In late May 2020, Lucasfilm announced that Best would be starring as Jedi Master Kelleran Beq in a game show called Star Wars: Jedi Temple Challenge, with a scheduled release date of June 3, 2020. 

In addition to his acting roles, Best has worked as an adjunct professor at Stanford University. His Stanford classes have touched on subjects such as art and Afrofuturism.

ALSO READ: What Is Star Wars Day? Here's All We Know About May The 4th

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