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  • Writer's pictureNadiah Sakurai

TURNING RED: MADE ME RED?

Turning Red is a Disney movie featuring a Chinese Canadian daughter and her mother (although the father definitely had an important role as well). To summarise the movie without going into any spoilers, Turning Red follows the life of Meilin “Mei” Lee – a typical 13-year-old girl who enjoys her classes and hanging out with her close group of friends. About 10 minutes into the movie, Mei finds out that her family wasn’t as ordinary as she had thought them to be. (Hint: Something about turning into a Red Panda.) This sparks a change in Mei and her relationship with both her friends and family (especially her mother) as she is forced to rethink what it means to be herself.

As a person with both South Eastern and Eastern Asian heritage (my dad is Japanese and my mother Singaporean), I was excited by all the hype I had seen emerge after the movie’s release. Not to mention, I am currently situated in Ottawa, and the city of Toronto (where the movie is based), is a place I have visited many times.

My thoughts? It definitely brought me back to when I was an awkward young girl navigating school, friendship, and crushes. There were a lot of scenes I related to in this movie (not to mention the cringiness of being a 13-year-old girl caught up in crushes – I am guilty of writing poems about boys, dreaming about idols etc.). 

Having grown up with a stern Asian mother who had strong opinions about what to do and what not to do, Mei’s relationship with her mother was all too relatable (except for the fact that I would fight back and get in a heated argument ten out of ten times). When her mother voices her concern to Mei about her friend, Miriam, stating she was being a bad influence on her, I felt that. I too had that experience where my mother judged my friends even though she barely knew them. It was something that frustrated me A LOT.

Another thing that felt close to home was how her mother was always “looking out for her ”. I put it in quotation marks as her actions may be considered pretty extreme (e.g., showing up at Mei’s school). But this is something my own mother had done and despite it being embarrassing and frustrating at times, deep down, I knew she did it because she cared for me and Mei knows this too.

What is funny is that this realization came only when my partner had pointed out how much he hated the mother in the movie for behaving in such a way. Hearing that, I felt offended. This was how I grew up and it felt as though he was directly criticizing my mother and my culture. It hit me like a brick.

Now, I admit that the behaviour exhibited by Mei’s mother was not healthy and can even be deemed toxic ( I am a very self-conscious person and I do credit it partially to how I grew up). But the movie does a great job of showing how this behaviour was done out of concern (you learn in the movie that the way Mei’s mother is acting is due to the conflict she had with her own mother). Watching this movie and going through the childhood memories opened my eyes and allowed me to view my experience objectively. It made me see how generational trauma can be passed down, and that despite behaving in an unhealthy way, my mother did care for me. That her actions are a reflection of how she had grown up and a mirror of what was expected of her.

It allowed me to feel that despite her actions being questionable, there was love behind it all.

I think this is really important – showing a family that’s not picture-perfect allows us to be able to relate and identify that it didn’t mean there was no love just because our family did not behave healthily. Although it does not excuse the behaviour, it allows us to understand that it was not purely malicious. The movie also creates a dialogue around generational trauma letting us see why and how the toxic behaviours stem out. Being aware of this will allow us to break the chain – to end it in our generation. Identifying areas that are problematic and thinking up better ways to deal with the situation is something this movie made me think about and I believe that is an important first step in ending generational trauma.

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