Courtesy of Disney+.

March 21, 2022

The Many Facets of ‘Turning Red’

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Disney Pixar’s newest movie, Turning Red, follows Meilin, a Chinese-Canadian teen, as she struggles with puberty, crushes and an ancient curse that causes her to turn into a giant red panda. This film is groundbreaking for Pixar — not only is it Pixar’s first Asian-led movie, but with director Domee Shi at the helm, it is also Pixar’s first movie to be solo directed by a woman. 

Recently, the film has been gaining much attention online, from critics and supporters alike. CinemaBlend’s managing director Sean O’Connell wrote, in a now-deleted tweet, that the film was “limiting,” hard to connect with and “exhausting.” He backed up his opinion by emphasizing the movie’s focus on Chinese culture in Ontario, with respect to the lives of Chinese-Canadian teens. As a white male, he felt that he was not the intended audience for this film, and those who were not Chinese-Canadian would not be able to relate to Meilin. 

Other opposition comes from parents who think the movie is inappropriate for young children. Some viewers on Rotten Tomatoes expressed discomfort with showing their children the film due to “mature” themes such as “the menstrual cycle and arousal.” Others claimed that the movie encourages teenage rebellion and is dangerous to show to impressionable children, who might be encouraged to lie to their parents. 

However, these criticisms have largely been drowned out by Asian and women viewers, who found in Turning Red parts of their identities respectfully represented in media for the first time. When reading through reviews left by people who identify as Asian, I found the overall consensus to be that this movie is necessary. One viewer pointed out that although Asians are a global majority, it is hard to find relatable Asian representation in Western media. Many people highlighted the importance of positive Asian media attention, especially today, when East and Southeast Asians are being targeted with hate crimes. Women viewers were heartened by how Pixar tackled periods in a very real way and portrayed the difficulties that come with female puberty. 

Personally, I think that this movie is very relatable. Although I found myself experiencing second-hand embarrassment multiple times, it was refreshing to see a teen portrayed as a loud, cringy and real person. We all went through embarrassing phases as we experienced puberty, and seeing uncomfortable situations — such as periods and crushes — play out on-screen will hopefully serve to erase some of the taboo surrounding those topics. The movie also conveyed hardships that befall mother-daughter relationships and portrayed the struggles of keeping traditional values alive while growing up in an increasingly modern world. These are themes that are relevant to my life, and I think Turning Red is so multifaceted that anyone watching this movie can find parts of themselves reflected in it. As for the criticisms that the movie was geared towards a very specific audience, I would have to disagree. As a non-Asian person, I was still able to relate to the coming-of-age ideals in the movie. I appreciated the cultural elements that I could not relate to because they provided me with a different perspective of the world. Overall, Turning Red was a joy to watch, and I would recommend it to anyone, no matter their culture or gender.

Anna Liba is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]