Turning Red was the Second Home My Childhood Needed
A Love Letter to Domee Shi's Pixar Film.
You know what's worse than getting bad grades in an Asian household? Your mother finding out you have a crush.
From Mei's mom finding her notebook filled with cute, but embarrassing drawings of herself with her crush, to being revolted by Mei "gyrating" to pop music, Turning Red took me back to my own childhood, when I felt alone in my struggles, and had a messy relationship with my mother.
Not only did the film capture the anxiety of a daughter trying to be "perfect" and "pure" and being caught while being “imperfect”, but it also accurately captured the wrath and absurdity of an Asian mother disapproving of her daughter making her own choices and growing up. From the minute it started, Turning Red was an upbeat, cheerful, relatable rollercoaster of a film. One that I wish I had when I was a little girl.
From the tendency to have a crush on a new boy every minute, to being in denial about the toxic nature of one’s parents, the film was everything a teenage girl going through puberty could relate to. The title "Turning Red", I believe, refers to menstruation, which the movie talks about as well—finally!
In addition to being the first Pixar feature film directed entirely by a female filmmaker (Domee Shi), this is also the first ever Disney/Pixar animated film to portray a group of female friends for a female protagonist.
Before this film, a female protagonist had only animals or boys as her trusted allies because she was so "different" from all the other girls. And if she had a girl friend, their relationship would only be shown on the sidelines and their worth would be determined by how helpful they are to a male protagonist achieving his goals.
To see a group of girls, so different from each other, yet united in their love. To see them being fun, supportive, adventurous, human—it was one of the best feelings in the world.
It's time animated films had more female friendships represented at their core, because when girls see awesome heroines hanging out with just boys, they learn that in order to be different and cool, they need to be a part of the boys' club. When they see a friends group with predominantly boys and one or two girls who don't interact much with each other, they again see themselves as side characters existing to help boys achieve their goals. They see fellow girls as rivals they need to compete with to prove their uniqueness. They see girlhood as something gross.
Turning Red is a turning point in the history of Disney/Pixar animated films. It's a film that makes girls feel belonged in this world. It holds a mirror up to them so they can identify their friendships, issues, fears and joys in the characters. It's a film that shows that puberty, menstruation, crushes, boy bands, and mood swings are normal. And with all these confusing little parts, it shows that girlhood is beautiful when experienced together with other girls who know and understand what you're going through.
This is a film that reminds us why a woman telling a story about girlhood leads to a relatable, endearing, and honest tale than when any man could tell it. This is a film that reminds us why we need more women as filmmakers, as characters, as friends, as storytellers.
Let this be the beginning of girls seeing a change on screen, so they feel comfortable with themselves and with each other, so they can discuss the things they think are uncommon, so they can fight their obstacles better and grow together without rivalry. So one day, down the line, they don't look back and wonder why they were trying to get along with the boys when the girls could get them so much better.
Turning Red is the second home my childhood needed. One that I’m glad today’s girls have, to take comfort and joy in.
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