YouTuber and writer Lindsay Ellis is taking a step back from social media in the wake of controversy stemming from a months-old tweet regarding Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon.
Back in March, Ellis shared a controversial opinion about Raya and the Last Dragon, an animated Disney flick based around traditional Southeast Asian cultures.
After viewing the film, Ellis tweeted, “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.”
This tweet, which may seem innocuous to some, immediately sparked backlash. Twitter users accused Ellis of being “racist” by insinuating that all Asian-inspired properties are similar, leading her to delete her initial tweet and attempt an apology.
“I can see where if you squint I was implying all Asian-inspired properties are the same, especially if you were already privy to those conversations where I had not seen them,” Ellis wrote in her apology tweet, according to Newsweek. “But the basic framework of TLA is becoming popular in fantasy fiction outside of Asian-inspired stuff.”
Ellis’ follow-up tweet did little to stem the flow of outraged Twitter users, however, leading the 37-year-old to briefly delete her Twitter account. She also wrote about the controversy on her Patreon in a March 28 post, explaining that there was a lot of “projection and assumption” around why she chose to delete the post, and noting her intent to take a break from social media.
A few weeks later, on April 15, Ellis uploaded a YouTube video titled “Mask Off,” in which she spent more than an hour and a half digging into the controversy and discussing how and why she was “canceled.” In the video, she said that people “ascribed in an intentionality which wasn’t there” to her earlier tweets.
Numerous people took to their own social media accounts in the months following Ellis’ initial tweet to explain why they felt she had misspoken. One user wrote, in a Dec. 27 tweet, that, while “Lindsay Ellis being harassed sucks,” they feel she “WAS racist in her dismissal of Indigenous ppl.”
Many people also called Ellis out for what they saw as “mak[ing] herself the victim,” and, in particular, for comparing her situation to that of Isabel Fall. Fall is a trans woman whose military science fiction short story, “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter,” became the subject of a virulent online debate. Following the backlash her story prompted, Fall checked herself into a psychiatric ward due to thoughts of self-harm and suicide.
As many people pointed out, comparing her situation to Fall’s didn’t help Ellis’ optics. Her use of Fall in an attempt to lessen the backlash instead did the opposite, providing even more ammunition to her detractors.
One tweeter labeled the Ellis-Fall comparison as “truly an apt send-off.”
Another observer regarded the comparison with a colorful adjective.
The backlash, while not front and center on many people’s Twitter accounts, persisted for months — until Ellis finally decided, on Dec. 27, to post a final “goodbye” to her Patreon account. The post, which can only be unlocked by Patreon subscribers, explains Ellis’ reasoning for quitting both YouTube and Twitter.
In the essay, “Walking Away From Omelas,” Ellis digs into the difficult year she’s had in the wake of the Raya drama and explains her decision to take a break from her social media accounts, according to Newsweek‘s account of the affair.
Following Ellis’ announcement tweet, which simply shared a link to the Patreon essay with a “goodbye” to her fans, yet another conversation began on Twitter. People started discussing her decision to leave the platforms, with some sharing their heartbreak that “we lost a titan” in Ellis.
Tablet Magazine’s Noah Blum added, “Lindsay Ellis is literally calling it quits because of that Raya tweet. She has over a million YouTube subscribers and about 9,000 Patrons and her career couldn’t survive *one* problematic tweet. That’s what operating in that toxic space is like.”
While many people were sharing genuine heartbreak over Ellis’ decision, others took time to explain the situation as they saw it. One broadly-shared thread, composed by user Michael Hobbes (@RottenInDenmark), opined that the Ellis controversy has proven that “social media has made it harder, riskier, and more unpleasant to be a public figure.”
The account went on to explain that Ellis was canceled despite there being no “other evidence that Lindsay sincerely” held anti-Asian viewpoints, and accused Twitter of “elevating” the “shouters” and allowing cancel culture to win out over “the *vast majority* of Lindsay’s audience,” who they claimed were “on her side.” He went as far as to proclaiming that the “mobbing of Lindsay Ellis is by far the dumbest ‘cancelation’ of 2021.”
This response stirred up yet another round of debate, as people flooded the thread’s comment section with their own takeaways. Several people pointed out that Ellis’ response to “Asian people contradicting her” helped to shed a negative light on her, and noted that Ellis reportedly contributed to the harassment of some of her audience, in particular people of color, who attempted to engage in discourse regarding her initial tweet.
Ellis likely won’t disappear from social media forever. Many fans are already anticipating her return, which may take years — or could come in just a few months. Regardless of when — or if — it happens, the situation has sparked a necessary conversation about the online sphere, accountability, and cancel culture.