Turning Red: The Controversy around Pixar’s Latest Release

Pixar’s newest movie, Turning Red, is a film based around the ideas of growing up, complex relationships with parents, bonding friendships, and, you guessed it, the awkwardness and adjustment to a new stage of life, puberty. Though it is an enjoyable and relatable movie for many, some people are not fans of the latest Pixar release. 

Ming and Mei | Pixar

So, what is Turning Red?

Meilin (Mei) Lee, a Chinese-Canadian, is an adventurous, curious, and quirky girl roaming around the streets of Toronto with her gang of three besties. The movie is set during the early 2000s, given the nerdy and hipster-style film. The 13-year-old then faces physical changes throughout her body when she hits puberty. However, it’s not the usual changes for a normal girl. She transforms into a giant red panda when she experiences strong emotions. Mei faces the challenges of trying to control her feelings, growing up and entering her teenage years, and trying to maintain good relationships and friendships during the movie.

The movie was designed to be a funny and entertaining film for audiences of all ages and introduce topics like periods, crushes, and growing up to younger viewers. The film also introduces audiences to Chinese culture, with the depiction of a variety of traditional practices and mouth-watering presentations of food.

Jin is stirring up a traditional Pork and Vegetable Stir-Fry. | Pixar

However, unfortunately, the idea of interpreting different ethnic backgrounds and the talk about periods had pretty divergent and contrasting reactions from everyone. 

The Internet Conflicts and Debates

Sean O’Connell, CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor, briefly posted a tweet about his opinion on the new movie. He mentioned how the movie was ‘only made for the Asian Community’, but more specifically for ‘Domee Shi (the director of Turning Red) and immediate family members. He then posted another tweet, backing the other one saying, that the movie felt ‘very specific and narrow’, lacked the effort to be inclusive, and was very ‘limiting in scope’. His post was largely based on cultural settings and assumed that many cannot enjoy the movie due to how it implements femininity and characters from different ethnic backgrounds.  “I recognized the humour in the film, but connected with none of it,” O’Connell wrote.

Many were outraged and lashed out at the post, and O’Connell shortly deleted the post. He then after apologized for his actions.

CinemaBlend also wrote an apologetic tweet, but outbursts and rage were still on fire all over the internet. Many claimed O’Connell’s post was racially and sexually motivated and reckless. Yolanda Machado, the digital editor of Entertainment Weekly, also spoke out against the insensitive review, as shown below.

On the other side of criticisms, parents on social media complained that the movie was too ‘inappropriate’ for children to watch at a young age, and found it too hard to relate to and enjoy. Many found the protagonist of the story to be snobby, a bad example, manipulative, and so on. Others found it disgusting and claimed it had very questionable meanings.

The mention of periods and puberty particularly was a big problem for parents as it is rare to see from Pixar, as worried adults were afraid to show their children the movie about growing up from ‘girlhood to adulthood’, as Mei always says. These feelings are understandable, as it’s perfectly fine for parents to want to tell their children about puberty at a better time in a better manner. However, before condemning this film, it’s significant to understand that this movie is primarily geared towards 8-12-year-olds, and such criticisms will only result in fewer films about puberty, not helping the current stigma around it at all.

Domee Shi, the Academy Award-winning director of Turning Red and well-known Pixar clip, “Bao”, disagreed with such remarks during her interview on CBC about Turning Red and O’Connell’s review, saying that the film “is a love letter to that time of our lives. It’s a love letter to puberty. It’s a love letter to Toronto.” And we can’t help but agree with her. It means a lot that this film helps children feel more represented than in the past regarding ethnicity and growing up through that “awkward” phase.

Director Shi, Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, and Lindsey Collins attend a gala in London. | Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images