Disney Turning Red is the first movie from the House of Mouse to feature an Asian protagonist. It’s also the first movie to prominently feature an Asian-American family; the second is Raya and the Last Dragon, set to come out next year.
Let’s take a look at the 6 most typical details for Asian representation in Disney Turning Red.
Disney Turning Red 2022 – a huge step forward for Asian representation in media
Disney’s first movie with an Asian protagonist, Turning Red, is hitting theaters in March of 2022. It was released in March 2022 and produced by Pixar Animation Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. It was directed by Domee Shi, the first female director at Pixar who won an Academy Award for her short film Bao..
Turning Red tells the story of Mei Li, a 13-year-old red panda who finds she has inherited the ability to turn into a full-sized human whenever she gets embarrassed. Throughout the film, Mei Li must deal with her blossoming crush on her classmate while exploring her newfound powers and trying to keep them secret. It looks like this film is going to explore everything from self confidence and love to friendship and family.The film hopes to shed light on the pressures that come along with being a teenager and being an Asian woman.
It’s already being warmly welcomed by Disney fans—especially Asian fans who have long felt underrepresented in the media. It is also exciting to many fans of short films, as it will be the first short film to ever be spun off into a full-length feature.
6 Typical Details For Asian Representation In Disney Turning Red
Asian Family Model through Disney Turning Red
Ming, the mother of Mei in Disney’s Turning Red, is a standard model for controlling parents in Asian families. She is not only imposing her own desires onto her daughter, but also bases her expectations on Meimei being the best. If anything goes wrong, she blames it all on Mei’s friends, saying they manipulate and spoil their children while Mei is the mastermind behind every little trick.
Mei’s father is the ideal model of the dream family man, very psychological, healthy and balanced. His weakness is fear of wife (and wife’s mother).
In “Turning Red”, there are a lot of scenes where little Mei says something “wrong” or raises her voice a little, immediately covers her mouth and then feels guilty, as if she had committed a crime. Ming also cries because of emotional trauma. This trick is always 100% effective.
The Asian representation here is not to make you feel uncomfortable, but to show that the parent-child relationship in traditional Asian families is not always as smooth as it seems. Parents often appear to be victims, telling stories “I have a hard time giving birth, raising you as big as your head and neck…” to gaslight their children, making it shut its mouth every time there is a conflict.
TVB and Period Dramas
Another Asian representation in Turning Red is the scene when Mei and her mother, Mrs. Ming, sat together folding dumplings in the living room. On the small television set in one corner of the room, a long-running historical drama was playing. In the corner of the screen, there was a logo for TVB (Television Broadcasts Limited), a Hong Kong station that produces top-notch drama series.
Mei and her mom watched the TV intently, commenting on and judging the show’s content. This was a very typical Asian representation of culture; watching TV with your family and talking about what you saw.
The plot of that day’s episode revolved around a man who didn’t listen to his mother, who warned him not to marry a two-faced girl who was only after his wealth. Of course, on their wedding night, the treacherous wife attempted to murder her new husband in order to get her hands on his fortune.
“That girl is just using that guy to take over his fortune,” Mrs. Ming said, “No matter what she says; on their wedding night she’ll give it a shot.”
This is also a very Asian thought: parents controlling their children and disobeying is an unavoidable disaster in time.
Detail of the fur wrapped in Grandma Mei’s scarf
A lot of the little details in Turning Red are really easy to miss, but these often contain Asian representation of the director. For example, Mei Mei’s grandmother comes into her room to talk privately with her daughter. She says, “I know you’re sneaking around the family to release the panda…” and then she wraps a bunch of red panda fur with a handkerchief to make it look like proof. Her demeanor is similar to the empress dowagers and old ladies in historical movies.
The detail of the fur wrapped in the scarf isn’t that big or important, but it’s really what Chinese women do, that’s because the movie is directed by people of Chinese descent who really know Chinese culture in every breath, if this film was directed by Westerners, people would never portray such tiny details like this.
Enchanting Souls into Objects
One of the most interesting aspects of the movie Turning Red is that, once the red panda vonq is out of the shaft, it will be contained in an item (for example a chain, a pearl necklace or a brooch). Of course, this seems confusing to those who are not familiar with the mythological background. However, this detail is strongly connected to Asian representation and rooted in mystical Eastern culture.
The Orient is famous for the belief that everything has a soul. This representation originates from the assumption that humans can enchant souls into objects by using supernatural powers. In Asian countries such as China and Japan, this practice of enchanting souls into objects is still widely practiced today.
The Oriental believes that everything has a soul: trees, animals and even inanimate objects like rocks or chairs. Human beings are also believed to have two souls: one resides in their body while the other hovers around them like an astral projection.
Rare Apologies from Asian Parents
The most magical detail in Turning Red is not that a person can turn into a XXL red panda but Mrs. Ming said sorry to Mei.
The word “sorry” seems to be not in the dictionary of Asian parents when talking to their children. Even if they are aware that they are wrong, it is better to talk more softly or call down to eat. That the duck apologizes to the egg never happens.
This way of thinking is so deeply ingrained subconsciously and becomes a featured Asian representation that even the children don’t dare to ask for an apology from their parents, even seeing it as obvious, as the right thing.
A Sumptuous Party When Inviting A Shaman
The last one for Asian representation in Turning Red is the scene where the Meimei family makes a sumptuous feast inviting the shaman to eat before sending out the pandas. Whenever there is an important event, it is the same as making a tray of rice offerings, inviting guests of all kinds. Asians value collectivism and food is the glue that holds people together.
Westerners don’t understand that mindset, so in Mulan (white director), Mulan’s mother and daughter’s family meal looks really pathetic (even though the house is as big as a mansion), and then they even ate rice just… poured tea???
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As Disney’s first movie with a central Asian protagonist, Turning Red did an incredible job of representing the Asian experience in a way that any viewer could understand and appreciate. And in case you missed it, here are 6 favorite details for Asian representation that made it feel authentic and fun.
If you want to get your hands on some sweet gear to show your love for the film, check out our Turning Red Shirts collection that is totally perfect for any true Turning Red fan!