By Erin Chew, AsAmNews Staff Writer
Domee Shi’s coming of age Chinese Canadian film- Turning Red introduces a confident, ambitious and dorky 13-year-old Mei Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang), who experiences the obstacle of growing up and confronting the wall which is understanding herself and staying as her mother Ming’s dutiful Asian daughter.
The mother-daughter relationship between Mei and Ming (voiced by Sandra Oh) is one which is messy but consistently transitioning as Mei’s body and emotions change. However, when Mei’s emotions get the better of her she ‘poofs’ into a big red panda and the reason behind this phenomenon is a family secret held by Ming.
Oh, who voices Ming tells AsAmNews that though protective, Ming is trying understand the changes Mei is going through and working out how to keep pace with her ever changing Chinese Canadian daughter.
“Ming is like any other Asian immigrant mother – very protective and hyper vigilant. She has to and is trying to learn how to help Mei through a transitional time in her life as well as reveal a family secret she has been holding on to”, Oh said.
Chiang, who voices Mei, talks about the constant struggle Mei has trying to balance out her body changes and awkwardness as well as how to reconcile the messy relationship with her mother, Ming. To throw things into the already complicated mix, Mei also has that turning into a ‘red panda’ issue, so it’s truly pandamonium.
“When Mei turns into a red panda, she panics and that makes her life even more of a mess and here is when her relationship with her mother changes for better or for worse even though deep down she doesn’t want to lose the closeness they once had”.
Asides from experiencing nostalgia from the 2000s, Turning Red touches on a number of issues such as growing up, teenage woes, family relationships and generational gaps between Western born Asians and Asian migrant parents. For Oh, to have a film which purely focuses on this is extremely important because it is a story which is familiar for the Asian diaspora in healing but in also seeing ourselves.
“It is important to just have your own story out there. I think these themes are universal, though for the Asian diaspora, whether they be in Canada, the US, UK, Australia etc to have our stories told and to see our stories growing up is extremely powerful.”
“Our relationship woes and gaps with our migrant parents is all about a deep healing process, and Turning Red is the type of film which helps us as the Asian diaspora create and continue to create our own unique identities outside of our migrant households.”
The movement for seeing more culturally diverse stories in film and TV is slowly being realized by major film and TV companies and networks, but what is interesting is that these stories are now being seen more in animated films which has target audiences starting from young kids to adults.
Chiang, who is still a teenager herself, discussed how as an impressionable teenager, seeing herself reflected in animation and to know that this also reflects the life of Turning Red’s creator Domee Shi, makes her feel a part of a bigger community rather than just experiencing these confusing changes on her own.
“I think different cultures can bring different aspects to stories told. I am still a teenager and playing Mei but also seeing an Asian face and one which is also shared by Domee Shi, shows me that I am not only one voice, but that my voice and story is one of many, and that makes me feel warm.”
“In Turning Red, there is so much Asian culture in the story, dialogue and environmental elements that would never be achieved if the film was made by a White person or a person who didn’t come from an Asian culture”, Chiang said.
Oh, who grew up as a Korean Canadian kid in the 1980s, never found herself and could never form her own Asian Canadian identity not seeing her stories reflected on film and TV. She feels that the generations of Asians in Canada and the Western diaspora can now have more understanding of the experiences of their Asian parents but also form their own identity and understand what it means to be a “hyphenated” Asian.
“Forming our identities and knowing who we are as Asians hyphenated forms at a young age. For myself, being young, Korean, Asian and Canadian growing up in the 80s, storytelling was from the point of a patriarchal and a White centered story telling place, so I could never find myself in these stories.”
“It is fundamentally important to see more authentic Asian and family stories find their way to the animated family field, because that is where understanding and identity forming starts”.
Turning Red will be released on Disney Plus on March 11.
AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart. We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. Check out our new Instagram account. Go to our Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff, or submitting a story, or making a contribution.