Disney: Will it Leave You Turning Red?


Iris Lee, Staff Writer

 After decades of having little to no Disney representation with the exceptions of Mulan, Up, and Big Hero 6, Pixar’s most recent movie, Turning Red, completely turned the tides for the filmmaking industry. It’s the first Pixar film directed by a woman, the third film to feature an east Asian lead character, and now, is currently one of the most controversial Disney movies of all time.

   Turning Red follows the chaotic life of 13 year old Chinese-Canadian Mei, who is addicted to geeky hobbies, obsessed with boy bands, and dealing with boys. Her lifestyle was one all too familiar to a large majority of its audience. The movie perfectly encapsulates the shared experience of entering adolescence for young teenage girls. In fact, the popular hashtag ‘#at13’ flooded all social media platforms, with women across the country reminiscing on the cheesy, nostalgic memories of their early teenage years. An even more enticing element of the movie was Mei’s complicated relationship with her family, as she struggled with her desire to please her overbearing parents while wishing to retain some semblance of freedom. 

   However, for many second generation Asian viewers, this seemingly innocent plot was so much more than a simple movie for teenage girls. It cleverly integrates a metaphor about intergenerational trauma. It’s a narrative on the way second generation Asian children frequently deal with the crushing weight of tremendous expectations, where they are expected to succeed whilst silently putting up with discrimination. It’s a realistic view on the clashing of Western versus Asian culture, and the cultural discrepancies that alienate you from both. The feeling of belonging to two cultures, yet never truly belonging to either. 

   For many, Turning Red was exactly the type of representation in the media they’ve been waiting for. “I loved Turning Red. I’m Chinese, and I go to Buddhist temples. Although they were worshiping ancestors, it was so refreshing to see so many similarities, like praying with incense. I think it was a pretty accurate depiction of how east Asian families interact,” says sophomore Natalie Tsung.

   Regardless of its cultural significance and representation that many second generation Asians have been waiting for, Turning Red has been caught in countless controversies. Many critics, such as Sean O’Connell (managing director of CinemaBlend), feel as though the intended scope of the audience was far too narrow. They believe that unless you’re a teenage girl, or Asian yourself, Turning Red was impossible to relate to. This was a popular critique throughout social platforms, that Turning Red was far too centralized on its cultural aspect. However, many argue that there are many relatable aspects of adolescence beyond its cultural significance. After all, this is the spark in the film industry. It allows us to see ourselves in other people’s shoes, no matter who you may be.

   Another controversial topic surrounding the movie involves its maturity levels. Menstruation and pre-teen attraction was a prevalent aspect of the film, which is generally a much more mature topic than Disney’s trademark. A common argument was that puberty should not be a theme in movies commonly designated for younger audiences, and that this topic should be left to parental discretion. But, many supporters of Turning Red argue that this further encourages the humiliating stigma surrounding puberty for young girls. According to sophomore Orion Taleon, “I think the involvement of mature discussions is a good detail to include to make the film feel more relatable than it already is. I also think that discussion is important in a company like Disney, which has such a large reach that it could serve to de-stigmatize and normalize common occurrences in our daily lives.”

   Regardless, the almost unprecedented representation in Turning Red will not come to an end. Now, with the expectation that Asian culture will be further involved with Western media in the future, fans of the entertainment industry have two options. Will you embrace the gradual acceptance of representation in films? Or will it leave you turning red?