Turning Red is a 2022 Pixar animated film directed by Domee Shi and written by Domee Shi and Julia Cho. It follows our main character Meiliin (Mei) Lee, as she tries to navigate her newfound ability to transform into a red panda whenever she feels any strong emotion. Her mother, Ming, explains to her that this was something passed down from their ancestor, Sun Yee, and that all the women in their family have had this ability. The only way to get rid of it is sealing the red panda into a talisman through a ritual on a lunar eclipse. The film shows us Meilin trying to manage this new ability, experiencing the growing pains of emerging into being a young adult, and breaking tradition by following her own path.
The red panda is something that all the women in Mei’s family have chosen to lock away. The red panda was originally gifted to Sun Yee to protect her daughters and her village during times of war and was passed down through the generations. Since times have changed, there’s no longer a need for the women to have the panda inside them anymore, and the panda is seen as something to be ashamed of. It comes out whenever they feel any strong emotion and the panda coming out is not only seen as an inconvenience, but also something that’s dangerous. Instead of being ashamed of the red panda, Mei embraces it, despite it not being what her family wants her to do. To Mei this is a gift and by locking this part of herself away she’s doing a disservice to herself. She battles with wanting to follow tradition and making her family happy, but also wants to embrace this part of her family’s heritage and do what makes her happy.
Being forced to hide a part of your heritage is something a lot of immigrant families and first generation children can relate to. When you’re a child, you grow up under the impression that there’s something shameful about your family’s heritage, and that the best thing to do is to completely remove yourself from it. There’s a level of trauma that comes with being ashamed of your heritage and having to suppress a portion of who you are, or where you come from. You become aware of the lengths your family went to remove themselves and there comes a point when you have to decide if you want to follow in their footsteps, or do something different. Everyone in Mei’s family is telling her she needs to get rid of the panda, but she chooses not to in the end. She doesn’t see that side of her to be something she needs to get rid of. Sun Yee was given the panda as a gift and for Mei to embrace the panda she’s not only embracing the gift her ancestor passed down, but she’s also breaking the cycle of removing the panda from her. All the other women in her family took the route to hide that part of their identities and though that was the best decision for them, Mei doesn’t feel it’s the best decision for her. It’s important to keep herself connected to her heritage and break the cycle of being ashamed of the panda.
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