CADY ABE WRITES – Disney Pixar’s newest movie, “Turning Red”, premiered on March 11, 2022, on Disney Plus. The new animated film, directed by Domee Shi, brilliantly shines with themes of women empowerment and Asian American representation.
“Turning Red” is the first Disney animated movie to have an Asian woman as head director. As a Chinese Canadian woman, Shi attacks both the bamboo and glass ceiling and portrays healthy female friendships and proper representation of the Asian American and Asian Canadian communities in a marvelous movie that tugged the heartstrings of women, especially women of color.
“Turning Red” follows 13-year-old Meilin “Mei” Lee, voiced by Rosalie Chiang, navigating adolescence, boys, and emotions while staying true to her heritage, family, and friends. Mei works to keep her life balanced as she tries to stop transforming into a giant red panda, as if in comedic Kafka style. I attended the opening night of “Turning Red” at El Captain Theater in Los Angeles. As an Asian woman, the film’s target demographic, I felt genuinely understood while watching this film. The topics of familial and ancestral ties, mother daughter-relationships, and friendship left me a happy emotional wreck from beginning to end.
The movie delves into the mother-daughter dynamic of an Asian household, a theme that hits very close to home. Mei’s relationship with her mother, voiced by the great Sandra Oh, reminds me of my own relationship with my mother. Audiences get a glimpse of the intense love Asian mothers have for their children and the pressure on the children to gain their parent’s approval.
The film, set in 2002, has many things that are very reminiscent of young Asian teenage girls of the time. The viewer sees boy bands to Tamagotchis to Sailor Moon references. Seeing a young Asian girl go through many experiences I had growing up was surreal. Audiences can see Mei learn that she does not need to be perfect to be loved. Mei realizes how to balance family life with friends and how to navigate her own identity outside of her mom’s wishes. Personally, I have grappled with balancing my mom’s thoughts against making my own decisions. Meilin’s feeling of needing to be perfect is often a character trait in children from Asian families. The pressure of not performing to a standard or disappointing your family is an experience I and many others in the Asian community struggle to overcome.
Thankfully, Mei’s peers reveal a breadth of Asian diversity and break down the stereotype that “Asians are all the same.” Mei’s friend, Abby Park, is a firecracker full of loud energy, while her other friend Priya Dewan is cool and calm. The movie tactically represents different characters without their personality being connected to their race. After many films produced in a white man’s world, “Turing Red” is a change for the better. Witnessing this piece of cinema proved to me and many others that we are not alone because others understand.
Cady Abe is a new AMI book reviewer, a senior Asian Pacific Studies major, and Chinese minor at Loyola Marymount University. She is deeply interested in Asian and Asian American culture and plans to attend law school.
Edited by book review editor-in-chief, Ella Kelleher.