Hollywood hasn’t had the best track record when it comes to diversifying its stories but as the industry is changing immensely due to new streaming platforms, so are the stories it is telling. From the #OscarSoWhite debacle to decades of upholding unrealistic body and beauty standards to a dearth of roles for people with disability, there is a lot the industry has to learn about representation and inclusivity.
Certain studios, like Pixar, are trying to be a bright spot against an otherwise rather problematic backdrop, with new releases that center on minority communities, and “non-majority” storytellers taking the helm of forthcoming productions. The animation studio in particular is generating praise with two of its latest releases, which focus squarely on minority-led stories.
While it won’t be hitting theatres until March 2022, “Turning Red” is already turning heads with its unique storyline: it follows the day to day of Mei Lee, a Chinese-Canadian teenage girl struggling with puberty and an overbearing mom — and this little problem of turning into a giant red panda. Voiced by actress Rosalie Chiang, Mei transforms into a larger-than-life red panda when she gets overwhelmed, while her mother, Ming, who is voiced by Sandra Oh, is never far behind, overdoing it on the doting.
With the official trailer released last week, it’s clear that even if none of us turn into giant red pandas when we get too excited, there’s something deeply relatable to this cute and touching story. And it makes a lot of sense that “Turning Red” is tugging heartstrings while inducing laughter: it’s directed by Chinese-Canadian Domee Shi, the first woman to direct a short form film for Pixar with the highly entertaining and critically acclaimed “Bao”.
Set in Toronto, “Turning Red” trailer already offers a few visual nuggets that Asian audiences will relate to, from Ming’s coiffed hair and ensemble to the festive red lanterns adorning Toronto’s Chinatown. Even small cameos, such as a Sikh school guard, have many touched by the representation.
Likewise “Luca”, another recent release from Pixar, is being applauded for its themes of acceptance and identity through the story of two sea-monster boys named Luca and Alberto. As the duo navigate life “out” of the water, they have to hide their sea-monster identities for fear of being rejected by humans.
Initially the film’s trailer led fans to excitedly speculate whether “Luca” was a gay or queer film, with its coming-of-age tale and the portrayal of intimate yet ambiguous bonds. However director Enrico Casarosa clarified the movie is not necessarily intended to be a straight or queer love story, it’s more about “friendship before girlfriends and boyfriends come into complicate things,” he said in an interview.
Regardless, viewers yearning for greater LGBTQ+ representation are taking away their own message from the film, particularly as they identify parallels in Luca’s story with their own personal experiences.
“Luca” is currently playing in cinemas in Hong Kong.