If you haven’t seen the film yet, Pixar’s Turning Red is receiving substantial recognition across all forms of media. Turning Red tells the story of 13-year old Meilin “Mei” Lee and her experiences with “puberty, cultural expectations, and her newfound tendency to turn into a giant red panda when overtaken by emotion” (NYTimes). Taking MEDIAGIRLS’ vision statement into consideration, this film undoubtedly represents our girls+ community and our overall message, as we at MEDIAGIRLS must be our most authentic selves. However, as a responsible representative of MEDIAGIRLS, I cannot continue writing about the impact of this film without addressing Walt Disney Company’s current controversy.
Turning Red is a Pixar film, although, as a subsidiary of Walt Disney Company, I must acknowledge the current state of this corporation. It was not too long ago that my fellow editorial intern wrote an enlightening blog about the Walt Disney Company’s relation to the “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” recently passed in Florida. To fully understand the depth of this issue, I strongly advise you to read this post on our site, “Anti-LGBTQ+ Bills Are On the Rise. We Can Fight Back.” I’m also afraid that with this blog, my fellow editorial intern has accurately foreseen the future when she stated, “I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the coming months, MEDIAGIRLS writes an article discussing the representation in some upcoming Disney property since their output is just so ubiquitous” (MEDIAGIRLS). But I must also say that it is immensely unfortunate that the corporation’s faulty and unethical decisions must overshadow the projects that creators (directors, producers, staff, etc.) work so hard for, even works that go against the corporation’s very own rhetoric. Just as it is immensely unfortunate that these issues still occur, it is immensely significant to address them and condemn them. For the purpose of this blog, however, I wish to dedicate this post to the creators of this film, the ones that, despite Disney’s ever-growing wrongs, use the enterprise that is this company to address topics that relate to viewers and tell the stories of many who watch.
If you would like to stay up-to-date on how Pixar employees are responding to Disney’s involvement with the Don’t Say Gay Bill, I encourage you to follow the provided links:
The Significance of Turning Red
Turning Red is a coming-of-age film that, I must say again, resembles our girls+ community. The main character of this story, Mei Lee, struggles to navigate her life when she turns into a big red panda. Overwhelmed and conflicted by this change, and with the help of her friends, Mei Lee confronts and learns to accept her transition. A metaphor for puberty, Mei’s red panda conveys the transformations she begins to endure. The motif of the color red hints toward the body’s probable changes during puberty and the hormonal changes that develop due to this change. That said, this film can be a relatable story for our audience as it normalizes our body processes. What is most interesting is that in Chinese culture, the color red represents joy, happiness, and luck. With all its various meanings, the idea of “turning red” implies a relatable transition that inevitably occurs when adolescents mature and grow.
The film also concerns not just girls+ but every other viewer, even parental audiences. This film depicts evolving relationships that girls+ endure with their parent(s) through the depiction of Mei Lee’s relationship with her mother, Ming Lee. There is even a comedic but purposeful moment in Turning Red when Ming Lee attempts to speak with Mei about her period. This scene, in my opinion, is a valuable moment in the movie, one that is not depicted frequently enough in film. Yet, Turning Red has faced its own controversy from parents and viewers that claim that the film is problematic and inappropriately depicts menstruation, “romantic crushes and sexuality; and […] that the main character, 13-year-old Mei Lee, rebels against her parents by repeatedly lying and sneaking out” (NYTimes). In this NYTimes article, “Turning Red’ Is a Good Conversation Starter — and Not Just for Girls,” author Melinda Wenner Moyer explains that Turning Red confronts and addresses the struggles that many kids encounter that must not be ignored or silenced. Taking criticism from child psychologists, the article clarifies that the film could bring families together, rather than apart, through its imaginative approach to depicting what adolescents experience. Therefore, Turning Red, as Moyer suggests and psychologist Judth Smetana argues, provides “an opportunity for discussion” with its realistic themes and its normalization of the body’s changes (NYTimes).
Comments have also been made about the targeted audience and Mei Lee’s ethnic background. Some have praised the film’s representation of the Chinese-American experience. Yet, other critics have said that the film and Mei’s experiences only relate and stem from Asian and/or Canadian girl experiences. Not only is this criticism outrightly baseless, but actor Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, the voice of Mei’s friend in the film (Priya Mangal), and most known for her work on Netflix’s series Never Have I Ever, makes a compelling statement in response to this criticism. Ramakrishnan called the film “universal” and said, “[Many people will be able] to relate to Meilin’s story, regardless of whether you are a young Chinese girl from Canada or not” (NBCnews). As Maitreyi Ramakrishnan reminds us, Turning Red is a “universal” narrative intended for all viewers and audiences willing to learn and understand.
Turning Red On Social Media
Check out the various ways in which Turning Red is referenced on social media!
Film criticism aside, many have turned to Twitter to praise the film’s achievements. Below you can see how other critics and movie viewers have received the film in a funny, joyous, and overall positive light.
A scene from Turning Red has become a viral video on TikTok. In the video, viewers can see how three friends recreated a meaningful moment from the film.
If you have not watched Turning Red yet, I highly suggest that you do. In doing so, I hope you can also learn from Mei Lee’s adventures and be willing to listen to the shared experiences of others!
Aryana Martin, Editorial Intern, is a student at Emmanuel College in Boston, Mass. She studies English with a double minor in Sociology and African and African Diaspora Studies. She’s passionate about reading, writing, learning, and creating new relationships and experiences. She is thrilled to contribute to the MEDIAGIRLS mission.