Jar Jar Binks Actor Reflects on Career-Ending ‘Phantom Menace’ Backlash


As The Phantom Menace turns 25 years old, and returns to cinemas for an anniversary victory lap, the actor who played Jar Jar Binks is getting candid about the harassment he received after the film’s 1999 release.

Ahmed Best spoke with People about the highs and lows of appearing in George Lucas’ prequel. The actor became the first person to perform a character through motion-capture technology in a live-action feature, but he also saw his career end just as it ostensibly started. When he was cast as the derided sidekick, Best was a dancer in his mid-20s touring with a production of Stomp.

“Everybody came for me,” Best told the outlet, noting that he “the first person to do” motion-capture work, “but I was also the first Black person, Black man,” to do accomplish such a performance.

The method became widely recognized following Andy Serkis’ performance as Gollum in Lord of the Rings. Serkis has since become the de facto representative of motion-capture performances with roles in King Kong (2005) and Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011).

Unfortunately, Best did not have such luck in the industry. The actor claims he was “ostracized” from future motion-capture work in Hollywood because of the relentless backlash Jar Jar Binks inspired. The character was accused of being obnoxious and, more troublingly, a racist caricature. The dissent was so severe that Best even received death threats, and at one point contemplated suicide.

Best told People the hate directed at Phantom Menace was “the first textbook case of cyberbullying.” It was all the more shocking because the entire crew, Best included, thought audiences would love the movie.

“You’re like, ‘Oh man, everybody’s going to enjoy what we just did,’ because if you feel the way we felt while we were creating, it’s going to be amazing,” he recalled. “But there were already kind of preconceived ideas about it, and there is already bubbling under, this online hatred. It was already being talked about even before the movie dropped.”

Best found himself unequipped to deal with the fallout of what he anticipated would be a career-beginning role. “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,” he said. “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 concluded: “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.”

The actor said the real sting came with seeing Jar Jar’s role “diminish and disappear” in Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005). He holds out hope that he may one day reprise the character for the send-off they both deserve.

“I would love just for there to be some really good closure, just to know what happened to Jar Jar. And then I don’t think it needs to be tragic,” Best shared.

Best has gone on to become an educator and adjunct lecturer at USC. He’s also appeared as Jedi Kelleran Beq on Disney+’s celebrated Star Wars series The Mandalorian.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is currently in theaters, and streaming on Disney+.

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