Turning Red, Seeing Red

Photo by Mohamed Elsayad on Unsplash

Disney Pixar’s new movie ‘Turning Red’ has elicited negative reactions from film critics and conservatives alike, since its recent launch. The criticisms have been varied, some have taken issue with the theme of puberty; others have said the story is too Asian focused, with some critics calling it ‘unrelateable’ or ‘alienating’.

CinemaBlend Managing Editor Sean O’Connell made this now deleted tweet:

“I recognized the humor in the film, but connected with none of it. By rooting ‘Turning Red’ very specifically in the Asian community of Toronto, the film legitimately feels like it was made for Domee Shi’s friends and immediate family members,” O’Connell wrote. “Which is fine — but also, a tad limiting in its scope.”

News flash! ‘Turning Red’ is a coming of age story. That fact is established in the first five-minute monologue by the titular character Meilin Lee, and it plays out for the rest of the movie.

The film is literally about a 13-year old Asian-Canadian girl finding her own place in the world.

OK, so O’Connell cannot relate to the experience of a pubescent 13-year old Asian girl. But do you know what else he can’t relate to? Being a secret British spy, or an intergalactic Norse God with an Australian accent, or the blood lust of a certain 591-year old Prince of Darkness.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but that can’t mask the fact that such comments have both a sexist and racist undertone. Perhaps even more so for those in positions of influence.

For starters, the majority of the entire world population is female.

And in a city of just shy of 2.8 million people, there are more than 630,000 ethnic Chinese living in Toronto. Looking at the 2016 Canada Census data, the racial composition of the city looks something like this:

These figures are similarly reflected across major North American, European and Australian cities. So while O’Connell cannot relate, there is a large enough audience globally that can, and that isn’t even including Asia proper.

Personally, the film resonated in a big way.

Firstly, the Chinese cultural nuances were referenced from my own ancestral village in southern China (Toisan-Hoiping represent!). My Grandparents sponsored more than 100 ‘Wong’ and ‘Ma’ families to North America in the mid 20th century, most of them passed through our family home in Hong Kong en-route to various cities and towns across North America and Oceania. My great grandfather lived out his days in Ohio, I have cousins in Toronto, Vancouver, New York, across California and across the Pacific Ocean, in Hawai’i to Papua New Guinea and ‘Down Under’. And while I didn’t grow up in Canada, I was a migrant kid in Sydney, Australia, a very multicultural city with demographics, government institutions and social policies much like the Toronto setting of Turning Red.

My three best friends whom I met in grade one, are all of different backgrounds: Polish and Sri Lankan and… a red-head (before middle age — just kidding, Mate!)

In Meilin, I saw myself, and in her best friends, I saw my own group of buddies. As I grew up, I too had to balance my ‘Chinese’ and ‘Australian’ identities. I know for a fact that this is a shared experience for not just my Chinese-diaspora friends, but all of my migrant-diaspora friends. Asian migrants have been moving and assimilating into their adopted home cultures in significant numbers for more than 60 years, this trend continues.

It is no longer wise or business savvy to silence the views, creative expressions and voice of the ‘model minority’. For what inspired the likes of Paul Yuzyk and Bob Hawke will be fully realised in a new generation of expressive, progressive and cashed-up Canadian/ American/ British/ Australians of Asian descent. In the coming generations — my generation and the ones that follow — an overflowing cornucopia of the best of all cultures will be expressed, and it will add to the splendor of multiculturalism.

May we all find our own red pandas.



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Cal Wong

Cal Wong


Award-winning journalist turned award-winning communications pro, who (still) has a lot of random thoughts