“Turning Red” review arouses outcry after being called restrictive: NPR
Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images for Disney
Puberty can be the most related human experience we go through.
But in the case of the character of Meilin Lee in Disney and Pixar’s latest film, “Turning Red,” her teenage anxiety is marred by the small complication of becoming a red panda.
The film, directed by Domee Shi, tells the story of Meilin (played by Rosalie Chiang), a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian who fights ups and downs in the early 2000s with his friends, trying to please his mother (played by Sandra Oh) and falls in love with her favorite boy band.
Growing up also breaks some barriers in the industry; Shi is Pixar’s first female solo director, and it’s the studio’s first Asian-directed film. The film, which premiered Friday at Disney +, was widely hailed as a refreshing, creative look at the middle ground and the difficulty of growing up.
But a review posted online earlier this week sparked outcry.
CinemaBlend CEO Sean O’Connell wrote that he could not get in touch with the film, calling it “limiting”.
“By anchoring ‘Turning Red’ very specifically in the Asian community of Toronto, the film feels legitimate as if it was made for Domee Shi’s friends and immediate family members. Which is fine – but also a bit limiting in scope,” O ‘Connell wrote .
In a later deleted tweet, he also called the film “exhausting”.
The review has since been taken down, and both O’Connell and the editor-in-chief of CinemaBlend have apologized.
Calling the film ‘limiting’ is a white-centered perspective, says the expert
To many in Asian society, O’Connell’s review felt far too familiar, and still deeply frustrating.
Nancy Wang Yuen, a sociology professor at Biola University and author of “Reel Inequality: Hollywood Actors and Racism,” said the review did not agree with her perception of the film at all.
“She’s just this average 13 – year – old girl who has this puberty problem, so I think that’s funny, right? Because it’s probably the more related representation of Asians, the most humanized version,” said Wang Yuen.
For O’Connell to say that the film was made for a small group of people, it is “the center of whiteness,” said Wang Yuen.
“If it’s not white, it’s somehow marginal,” she said, “the global majority is Asian, so there are a lot of people who can relate to that.”
Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images
She also points out that most animated films are “weird” in one way or another, and that a film does not have to reflect on her personally, as a straight, Asian woman, for her to make contact.
“It’s not like I could relate to Ratatouille … I did not even know that Ratatouille was a dish,” she said. “It’s not like we’re not exposed to things that do not speak to us personally.”
It’s uncomfortable for people who are used to a white male-centric perspective, who do not understand that there are other ways to tell … There are emotions in “Turning Red” which is definitely part of a human story, “she said.
Asian representation on screen affects more than just the film industry
Phil Yu, who blogs under the name “Angry Asian Man” and is co-author of the book “Rise”, says that the review reflects the lack of stories about Asian characters.
“A lot of this is based on the fact that people have no reference point when it comes to an Asian story because there are so few … so when something like that comes up, it feels like a kind of aberration because you’re forced to expect something you rarely experience in a movie, “said Yu.
The relatively invisible nature of Asians in movies affects the “dehumanization” of Asians off-screen as well, Yu said: “Everything from just random street attacks to racist politics.”
“It’s exactly this level of empathy that is not there, the kind of empathy that comes from being able to relate to someone’s stories, someone that you have no connection to,” Yu said.
Wang Yuen also added that the review felt dehumanizing, especially at a time when East Asian and Southeast Asian women are being abused.
“Even when you’re at the center of a story, it’s impossible for me to relate to you because you’re not human. That’s how it felt,” said Wang Yuen.
Role members, director responded to the review
Despite all the setbacks O’Connell’s review has created, cast members from the film have responded by emphasizing how the film is for everyone.
“The story of all these friends and family is so universal … so many reviews are going to say the other way, that so many people are able to relate to Meilin’s story regardless of whether you are a young Chinese girl from Canada , or not, “Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, who votes the grade Priya, said this week.
Shi, the director, may have had the best response when she was asked by the CBC to respond to Sean’s criticism which called the film “exhausting.”
“Wasn’t his puberty exhausting? Lucky Man.”