Pixar’s “Turning Red” Is Also Controversial in China, for Different Reasons

Many Chinese viewers loved the new flick, while others debated whether its narrative does a fair job reflecting modern Chinese culture

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Beatrice Tamagno Headshot
6:10 PM HKT, Wed March 23, 2022 2 mins read

Pixar’s Turning Red by Chinese-Canadian director Domee Shi, who previously directed the short film Bao, was released on the streaming platform Disney+ on March 11. The film immediately sparked debate in the English-speaking world, while some in China question whether it accurately reflects modern-day Chinese culture.

Although Turning Red hasn’t been officially released in China, it has lingered on the ‘hottest movies’ chart of the Chinese movie review site Douban since March 11 and has received generally positive reviews.

The film stands out as trailblazing: not only is it the first Pixar feature film directed by a woman but also the first to be set in Toronto and to feature a Chinese-Canadian teenage girl, protagonist Mei Lee.

mei turning red

Mei in Toronto’s Chinatown

The film’s characters and its depiction of puberty and periods have ignited debates around representation and relatability in North America.

The movie has attracted criticism (mostly from white men) for trying too hard to be representative of minorities and becoming “alienating” and unrelatable to broader audiences in the process.

However, many Asian Americans felt seen and resonated with the struggles of Mei, a 13-year-old caught between filial piety and self-actualization.

Most Chinese audiences on Douban seem to have the same view, and the movie currently holds a rating of 8.2/10.

Turning Red builds a stereotyped image of the Chinese-Canadian community only to tear it apart bit by bit as the plot unravels,” reads a five-star review on Douban. The write-up also criticized Marvel’s Shang-Chi for its outdated Chinese imagery and worn-out gender tropes.

Another Douban user meticulously documented elements representative of Chinese culture, such as delicacies like steamed dumplings and stir-fried pork, the classic Hong Kong Cantonese-language TV channel, and the elderly folks playing chess on the roadside.

temple turning red

The temple managed by Mei’s family

Many aspects of Mei’s teenage life hit close to home, according to other popular comments online. The overwhelming changes brought by puberty, the worship of cute boy bands, and high academic expectations from parents are all common denominators for millions of teenagers back in China and within the Asian diaspora.

“Many East-Asian kids go through similar struggles. During their teen years, they are constrained and try to reconcile with themselves for the rest of their lives,” reads one of the most upvoted comments on Douban.

red panda mei turning red

Red-panda Mei and her best friends

While most Chinese netizens seem to have a positive view of Turning Red (based on our assessment), some viewers have different (read: less positive) opinions of the film, questioning whether the narrative does a fair job reflecting today’s Chinese culture.

“Many years have passed, and yet, Chinese people didn’t change a bit in the eyes of Americans. I don’t know if I should feel sorry for China or the U.S.,” a Douban user commented.

“The film once again shows that overseas Chinese people have different experiences and stories from people in China. I also felt these differences when I watched The Farewell,” a Weibo user opined, referencing the critically lauded second film from Chinese-American director Lulu Wang.

Another Weibo user wrote, “Mei is cute, but her mother, aunts, and grandmothers are so stereotypical. And the Chinese elements in this film feel weird and forced.”

As for the film’s visuals, the comment section on Douban is filled with compliments such as “too cute” and “so adorable,” referring to the giant red panda that Mei transforms into whenever she experiences strong emotions. Fan art and memes depicting characters in the film have also circulated on Weibo.

All images via YouTube

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