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Turning Red (2022): It's Okay to Feel All Your Feels

Turning Red is an endearing coming-of-age, monstrous femme film about learning to love yourself but it is also about the emotional connection between a mother and daughter. Furthermore, it’s about the dual identity of this Asian-Canadian girl. Gabe gets real about her own mixed identity and replies to audience complaints about the film. Kat explores what the Red Panda symbolizes and how trauma is different for everyone.

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Turning Red (2022)

A 13-year-old girl named Meilin turns into a giant red panda whenever she gets too excited.

Director: Domee Shi


Turning Red: Learning to Love & Accept All Our Identities

by Gabe Castro

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.


Turning Red follows Mei, an ordinary pre-teen girl with amazing friends and a beautiful relationship with her mom. Mei is incredibly close to her mother and spends her time outside of school working at the family business. Mei is super obsessed with a boy band and she’s only just discovering that real boys can be pretty cute. The film brings us along Mei’s journey of self-discovery and growth. As Mei begins her puberty process, she also discovers an old, hidden, family secret. She and the other women in her family are were-red pandas. They turn into giant red pandas when they feel too many emotions. At first, Mei is stressed by this change. Hair in unexpected places? No control of our emotions? Our body is so foreign and our parents couldn’t possibly understand?! You may wonder, as we often do in stories like this, why Mei’s mother didn’t warn her of the panda beforehand? Well, Mei’s mother thought she’d have more time. When I was watching this, I totally understood considering that people my age tended to mature and go through puberty faster than our parents. I got my period when I was 12 or 13 myself.

It’s a typical coming-of-age monstrous femme, but it is also so much more than this. Mei learns to appreciate her panda. With the help of her friends, she turns the panda into a positive. Other kids love it and she soon begins making bank using the Panda and panda merch. This money is going to be used for the beloved concert of her favorite boys, 4Town. However, the night of the concert happens to fall on the same night of her ???. Will Mei sacrifice her new red panda powers to become normal? Or will she learn to love her panda and find the beauty in what makes us monstrous?

This film has gotten a ton of love online. Fans of Encanto are excited for this future of wholesome, loving movies about family, growth, and representation. However, there’s also been a bit of backlash from viewers that I want to address.

I Don’t See Myself:

There was a review by a white man explaining that he doesn’t see himself in a movie like Turning Red. He expressed distaste for the film for lacking in his experiences. There’s a lot to unpack in that idea but I want to start by saying, I think it’s okay for one of the millions of things out there to not be about a white man or the white person's experience at all. Been there, seen that. It’s like when Jordan Peele said he doesn’t see himself ever casting a white male lead in his films. He’s already seen that movie. And we have. It doesn’t have to be about you, dude. Let other people have a chance to share their stories. It’s time to rotate the crops or else our land will rot.

The other piece to this is that this person is simply out of practice. He hasn’t had to work to identify with a piece of media before. Because it has always already been made for him. As an incredibly mixed femme person, I have had an entire lifetime of practice finding a connection with characters that do not look like me. You learn to find other parts of their experience to bond over. I am not Asian (I am Canadian though) and so I can’t entirely relate to Mei’s experience. But I can relate in ways that I always have with the media. I had similar experiences growing up and there are many other pieces of this story that I relate to.

Growing up, there were no (and continue to not be) any Disney Princesses for me. I either had to be Indigineous or Indian. Even my Latiné heroes weren’t quite right for me. Selena Quintanilla is a Mexican-American, where I am Puerto Rican-American. But I could identify with her dual-identity as a Latiné-American who did not fit into either identity entirely. So my response to this man’s outcry of lack of representation is simply, figure it out. Find what parts of you are in this piece and understand that there is no one story to tell.

Bad Mamas:

The other negative review I want to address is about Mei’s mother, Ming. There is a lot of hate towards her and her own mother for being too overbearing and controlling of their daughters. There is similar vitriol towards Alma of Encanto. Firstly, how many mothers are even alive in Disney to be criticized? Let’s give them some props for not having anime-mom disease and dying off camera. But also, these are women who are existing under some very extreme and traumatic societal pressures that those other Disney moms wouldn’t understand. Turning Red reminded me a lot of Brave. I mean, both moms are turned into bears! But the exploration of that mother-daughter bond, the pressures young girls experience to perform and uphold certain traditional values is present in both. However, Ming and her mother have the added pressure of being immigrants. Of being outcasts in their own homes. Alma literally fled persecution and watched her husband murdered in front of her (spoilers, sorry), I think we can cut this woman some slack!

So, all that is to say to lay off. Leave these women alone. They are not the villains in this story. They are not Mother Gothel of Tangled. Their moms: human, flawed, and absolutely in love with their families.

Gabe’s Review

There is so much to be said about this truly fun and amazing film! I loved it on so many levels. I identified pretty strongly with Mei. Through her connection with her family, the very strong matriarchal line of women, her obsessions with boy bands, boys, and attention. This film is about learning to love yourself but it is also about the emotional connection between a mother and daughter. Furthermore, it’s about the dual-identity of this Asian-Canadian girl. Being mixed myself, I understood the stress of straddling two realities. Of performing the role of daughter at home and someone else entirely in the world. Director Domhee Shi said about the red panda, after visiting a sanctuary for them, “They’re native to China. And then also, it’s like red and white. It’s like Chinese, but also like the colors of the Canadian flag, too. So it felt like the perfect animal to tell this story about this Chinese-Canadian teenage girl.”

There are so many pressures on children of families that feel the intense weight of societal expectations on them. There is an experience here that is very unique to Asian-Canadians/Asian-Americans and other mixed race families that adds to the story. Mei is seen as a golden child, she holds on her shoulders the weight of the future. She must be the best version of herself and please her mother. When she stops doing that, she becomes this red panda. And though this film is very much a puberty film, it’s also about allowing ourselves to let go and to feel. Like in Inside Out, our protagonist learns that it’s okay to show all her emotions, that they are a piece of her and do not make her any less worthy of love or praise.


Adverse Childhood Experiences & Turning Red

by Kat Kushin

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.