Why I Loved Turning Red

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“The number one rule in my family: honor your parents.” That’s the opening line of the movie. But before this movie even started saying anything, I already knew I would love the movie.

Pixar's Turning Red movie poster

Here are some reasons why I’m celebrating Turning Red and how you can too:

1. History was made with the debut of “Turning Red.”
Domee Shi, the director of “Turning Red,” is the first woman to solo direct a Pixar film in the studio’s history. She has worked as a story artist for “Inside Out”, which also tells a story about a young girl and her Big Feelings. Shi was also recognized for her direction of “Bao,” which won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. (And if you weren’t paying attention then, “Bao” is a 7 minute film about a mother’s feelings about an impending empty nest, allegorically represented in the form of a baozi.) Shi also tells stories from the female perspective and y’all, what a sigh of relief a woman is telling the story of a middle school girl because men really have no idea, no matter their interviewing skills or how many PhDs they have. So when you think holistically about what Domee Shi has spent her career doing – telling the story of the human experience – it should not surprise us that “Turning Red” continues the story telling for all of us to enjoy.

2. Puberty normalized.
What a wild ride puberty was, am I right? And I, for one, would have loved seeing the crazy and wild ride of pre-puberty and puberty in an animated form at 13. Like many have noted before me, we need to talk about puberty more. We need to talk about menstruation more. There is no shame or embarrassment in our bodies maturing. And also? What a hilariously uncomfortable time puberty was. Your feelings are all. over. the. place. and relationships – especially with the person you are attracted to – feel exciting and terrifying all at the same time. Do you all remember the first time you had a crush? Mine was Tom Brady, and while I’m not the artist Meilin is, and I may or may not have spent a lot of my free time searching through all my parents’ magazines for pictures of him to put on the back of my bedroom door. How could I have so much affection for a man (a whole adult man) I had never met? Thanks a lot, puberty.

3. Parent-child conflict was included in the storyline.
Back to the opening line of the movie; honoring parents is a familiar concept and phrase within the AAPI community, and while it speaks to respecting your parents, it has also been a phrase that can bring up experiences of shame. As many of us can attest, our relationships with those who raised us can be wrought with good and bad feelings, some more good than others, some more bad (and terrible) than others. I think, though, that many of us can relate to the feelings of angst, anger, frustration, confusion, and disappointment (and other Big Feelings) towards our parents when we were growing up. Mine were about the rules they had for me (like finishing up my homework before getting to do anything fun), the expectations they had for me (studying hard, doing my best, getting good grades), and the conversations they had with me that made me feel like they didn’t understand me as a maturing young person (why did I like this particular music, why did I want to stay up all night on AIM chatting with my friends – you know, relatable stuff). That is (un)fortunately one of the gifts of the human experience: our brains are maturing, and so are our emotions and our ability to understand them and express them. Obeying parents and doing things to please them is so ingrained in parent-child relationships, it was so redeeming to see the impact of expectations (especially unrealistic ones), history, and experience in familial relationships in both Mei’s story and her mother’s when it came down to love for each other. When conflict arises (and personifies itself in uncontrolled, dysregulated Red Pandas), they allow that experience to restore and repair their relationship, and that is something every parent and child should do too.

4. “Be careful. Honoring your parents sounds great but if you take it too far, well, you might forget to honor yourself.”
Isn’t that a word? How many of us had to unravel and unlearn who we thought we were in our young adult years because so much of who we were was a performance of the versions of ourselves our parents wanted us to be? How many of us have met people as adults who are struggling to know who they are – how they feel about things, what they actually love to do, etc – because they have only ever listened to their parents without honoring their own personhood? Don’t get me wrong (school social worker here), there is a need for rules and expectations when we are young/when we are parenting growing humans, because they biologically do need us to help them regulate and make decisions. But, instead of telling them how, what if we entered into conversations with partnership and not dictatorship? What if we as parents starting asking them what they thought could be solutions to their problems, and how they would like to solve them? What if we as parents used our critical thinking skills to help them make decision trees that allow them to see the consequences of their own choices, as they are free to make them? Last “school social worker” thought/observation: the kids who are successful in life are the ones who have been empowered to make their own decisions, because their parents have given them the tools to do so AND have held appropriate consequences to match.

Meilin Lee main character from Turning Red

5. And last but certainly not least – I loved this movie because because I saw myself in it (And yes, please celebrate that with me!).
The entire movie highlights and features many relatable aspects of AAPI life and culture for all audiences to enjoy. The opening scene features a “Happy New Year” card featuring a traditional scene with traditional clothing, reminding us of our recent celebration of Chinese New Year. There is the mention of parental sacrifices in efforts to give their children everything they could need, a very familiar conversation amongst immigrant/second generation families. There is the use of anime art in the animation. There is a diverse girlfriend group, one that mirrors mine in college. In my 35 years of life, I did not start seeing myself in mainstream media until recently (and by recently, I mean like the past 4 years since “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” came out). Much like Coco, Encanto, and Moana have done before, “Turning Red” tells the beautiful story of the human experience, including the tapestry of humankind and the differences that make us all unique and worthy of dignity, respect, and celebration. If you found yourself celebrating those stories, and the very real, normal, human experiences behind these stories, then you can find the exact experience in Meilin’s story too.

Movies have the ability to show us parts of ourselves we didn’t know we had and it has the ability to teach us stories about others we didn’t know we needed. As parents and caregivers, we have the ability (and might I even suggest: the responsibility) to know what we are inviting into our lives for our children.

Yes, watch the movies with your kids.

Yes, have your own thoughts about what you watched.

Yes, be excited about a new animated movie about a girl who turns into a Red Panda when she has strong emotions!

But also – invite questions and conversations. What did your kiddo love about the movie? What did your kiddo dislike? Were there parts that were funny to them, and if so, why? Were there parts that scared and/or confused them, and if so, why? You’ll be surprised at how much our kids pick up and observe from Turning Red, and being open to conversation (and then having it) is what parenting is all about!

 

Common Sense Media describes Turning Red as a “coming-of-age tale explores puberty and parent issues” and rates it for kids 10+ years old.

 

 

 

Also check out our this article for additional books & stories celebrating AAPI culture:

https://memphismom.wpengine.com/guide/recommended-reading-asian-american-pacific-islander-heritage-month/

 

 

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Jocelyn moved to Memphis in 2015 with her husband, not knowing a soul. Now, it’s as if she has always lived here! Jocelyn is a first generation Asian-American who was born in California, grew up overseas (Thailand), and moved back to the States in middle school. After leaving home (Maryland) for college in the south (Georgia), Jocelyn hasn’t left the south and her childhood friends claim she has a southern accent. Currently, Jocelyn is a School Social Worker who spends most of her time helping little + big humans navigate how to be healthy humans in this world (and all the highs and lows that come with it). She is also on her own journey of discovering what it means to be an introvert and a mom. Jocelyn and her husband welcomed Charlotte (2018) to their family and are in awe of how much fun it is and how crazy it can be to raise a little human. When she’s not working, Jocelyn can be found in fuzzy socks doing a puzzle, enjoying alone time at a coffee shop, scouring Target’s Dollar Spot for things she definitely doesn’t need, and cheering on the Memphis Grizzlies.

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