Turning Red


This is a difficult one to write about. I've made it no secret that I have a number of Asian-American Friends as well as friends from various parts of East Asia. Two of them warned me about this movie as they found it extremely racist in some ways and offensive in others. That went counter to some of the things I was reading online though, which said that there were many Asian-Americans that loved it or found it a good thing for them. It was rather confusing to me.

My friends had NOT told me NOT to watch it, just warned me about it, so, today, I watched it. I am filled with mixed feelings on it. What they said seems to be accurate, but at the same time I can also see why it may appeal to others. This is sort of me trying to sort out my feelings about it, so it is more various thoughts parsed together rather than one continuous flow of a review.

In general, it covers the story of a young teenage girls whose family has a hidden secret. It can be seen as a parallel from the difficulties of being a 13 year old and all the cringe that comes with it, to the difficulties of different generations trying to see eye to eye.

It is directed by a Chinese-Canadian (Domee Shi) and co-written by the same individual with Julia Cho. Right there should give positive points towards indicating it could be a good representation of the Chinese-American/Canadian experience. I would think it could be seen in that fashion.

However, these also all apply to the things which friends have said they did not like as well. One of my friends says that because they are Chinese heritage, that they feel the film highlights what is DIFFERENT rather than what is the same between them and other Americans/Canadians. It may be that it is accurate to the life of Domee Shi, but these were things they were made fun of when they were children and it hurts. They have worked so much to be like other Americans, this film feels like it is trying to show how they are different rather than how they are just like any other American. Rather than pointing out that they went to McDonalds, just like others, that they ate pizza at home for meals at times and watched ESPN, just like others, that they were into skateboarding and the common American experience, it points out things that were NOT the same. It points out that Chinese Canadians may have had very different meals that most Americans won't recognize or even worse, americanized versions of the foods rather than the authentic Chinese versions, it points out that their parents might watch Korean Soaps, and that they would have rituals and temples instead of normal American Homes. They feel that though it may have some accuracy, it hurts by OTHERING rather than showing how they are also the same as everyone else.

This friend can understand somewhat, as they have a sister that has gone full on crazy at trying to celebrate their Chinese heritage. This sister tries to cook traditional foods and other items, but inherently doesn't understand Chinese culture (because she was born and raised in america) and is more copy catting the idea of what she THINKS makes someone Chinese rather than actually LIVE as they did growing up (their parents were very big in trying to assimilate into the American culture rather than forcing their own on it).

This movie brings painful and disturbing feelings because of this, because the friend feels that the director and writers were tapping into the same zeitgeist as their sister, trying to celebrate the idea of Chinese heritage by trying to show they accept it, while in reality they aren't really accepting who they are yet because they cannot accept that they are not really Chinese even if they have elements of it's culture within them.

On the otherhand, my other friend, while also having similar feelings also points out one other item they find disturbing in the movie. It is incredibly accurate in some ways. It is so accurate to what it was like in the 90s for them, that it brings them unavoidably cringing throughout the movie. They don't want to be brought back to that age and it makes them uncomfortable. This is also the problem they point out, it is INCREDIBLY DATED. It would have been better in the 90s which it reflects (and looking at the director's and writers age, it makes sense it is a reflection of the 90s life). In the 90s this would have been an incredibly forward thinking film, but today, it doesn't reflect what Chinese American or Chinese Canadian Culture really is today, or what it is made up of. You have many who have lived MANY generations in the Americas at this point, and this film does them no aid in indicating that tradition in the way the film makes it seem, has as much weight on today's youth as it did then. Then again, the film is supposed to happen in 2002, so reflecting that time period is probably apt.

A review by an individual with Chinese Heritage (though from India rather than the Americas) Andrew Lu had this to say

My main issue with the film is its portrayal of Chinese culture. The film and most ‘Asian’ films produced in North America tend to have a very myopic view of Asian culture. It’s this dying need to be as authentic as possible because these people are actually Canadian or American and truly have zero ties to the original culture they came from, and they miss what being an immigrant is all about. In hopes of getting in touch with 'their culture' they go overboard and depict them as racist, over the top characters. They have no idea what being actual Chinese is really like. My family immigrated to India in the late 1800s and we’ve assimilated without any earth-shattering issues like the ones that seem to be present in Turning Red. The character of the mother is so cringe-inducing that it truly is a racist caricature of what the average Chinese mother is actually like. It’s this ‘Western’ approach to Chinese culture that truly destroys what little credibility this film had left. Turning Red best personifies the statement, no style and no substance. It delivers its message with the subtlety of a jackhammer with no nuance to storytelling.

Turning Red review

Which is one of the few reviews I found online by an actual reviewer with Chinese heritage. It seems to reflect what my friends were telling me.

BUT, and this is where it gets problematic. After seeing the film I see many things to which each of us could actually relate, and perhaps it is the generation from which my friends are from which are having difficulties with the film, that younger generations, or even the off shoots of older generations find more that they love about the film.

Coming from someone who is NOT of the Chinese American background, I'm not sure if my views on it would be considered valid or not, but here goes.

For myself, I found that it has themes which can be relatable to anyone. There are themes where the younger generation has different feelings about how they want to live their lives than what their elders did. I think this is a very relevant issue today. What the youth of today's parents, or even grandparents (I might fall into this these days...eeek) might think or feel are not what the youth feel or think. Traditional ideas of the older generation are things which the younger generation may not want to do the same way, they want to go their own way, while at the same time reflecting on those issues respectful of how they were, but in a renewed sense of wanting to do it with their own decisions, not their parents.

I think this is what is really at the core of the movie, our children finding their way in the world, growing up and becoming individuals that make their own choices rather than being reflections of their parents and the difficulties that can lie in doing that on both the parents and the children's point of view.

I think this is sort of reflective of ENworld as well (which is what brings me here on this movie). Today in the RPG world we have what we call the old schoolers (and I suppose I may be one of those) and the modern day RPG design and fans. They have many different ways of thinking about things and RPGs. Some of the things which the older crowd or at least those that love pre-2000 D&D design, love are very confusing to those who love the newer designs of RPGs. The way the older crowd has certain sacred cows or how they view things like balance and D&D can seem confusing. At the same time, many of the things the younger crowd do these days can befuddle the older edition fans. Getting into streaming may be something that we simply don't get.

What we need to do at times is to try to understand each other, and then, even if we don't completely understand why they think or believe as they do, at least accept that they have the freedom to choose that direction (in RPG choices, as in what I'm talking about and referring to ENworld).

Just like the film, the teenager, her mother, and grandmother are NOT enemies, though they may think they are at times. They also don't have to force themselves to conform to what the other one expects or wants them to be like. Recognizing that they are all part of one big family, but also individuals who can make their own choice in the matter is the key.

The same with the different eras of D&D players. WE shouldn't be against each other. We, in fact, should all be for the same goal, loving the D&D we love and fostering it together in our love. That doesn't mean we all have to love the same edition, or even the same edition for the same reasons. We can all be united in our love of D&D and yet enjoy each of whatever version we love for whatever reasons we choose. It is our individuality that sets us apart, but at the same time which can also bring strength if we are all together in support of our hobby and the game.

So I see a great deal to like in the film...which is why my feelings are mixed. I know how it is to be other. I may not be of their culture, but I am of a minority culture myself, and as such, understand how it feels when it seems you are misrepresented or not shown in the right light, or many other things. Most of the reviews written in favor of the movie are written by Non-Chinese Americans/Canadians who, like me, would be putting their own slant on it and perhaps trying to paint it favorably (finding quotes specifically from Chinese or chinese-americans which favor the non-Chinese American viewpoint) because we want something to align to our own view. My friends who commented on it are limited though, and I feel that there really are others of the same culture who would look favorably on the film. The film maker (as I pointed out above) is themselves, of the chinese-Canadian/American culture and I feel that there must be others that feel or think like they do within that same culture (I could be wrong).

That said, I think the film speaks to those of many different groups and people, including our own, here at EN world. It has things about differences of culture and generations, things which I think speak strongly about the separation of generations we have in D&D, but at the same time, how at the end, we are one big family and as such, should root and cheer for each other in their own strengths and celebrations.

Just my different and conflicting thoughts I have after finishing the movie.

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I really liked the movie. I'm not Chinese myself, but I am Canadian and went to school where as much as 80% of the other students were immigrants, or children of immigrants, (or children of children of immigrants). The largest group was Chinese (much larger than the number of "white" people). What I'm trying to say is, I have had many friends who had similar childhoods to the movie's authors.

From that perspective, it was very authentic. I think the reason that it may have seemed "dated" is that the screenwriters were very specifically trying to tell a story that spoke to them (and people with similar experiences). I think because of this, they were very much not trying to say that all Chinese childhoods would be like that. Some were.

Personally, I felt that watching a show that told a female Chinese story was absolutely worth any problems it might have had. We certainly get enough white male stories. I'm not saying it's above criticism, but I think there might be a danger in giving it too much flack - we want MORE of these kinds of stories. Not less.

Also, I very much liked it. It was fun.
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Rules-lawyering drama queen but not a munchkin
@GreyLord I think there is a paradox at play. Without attempting to overgeneralize, from what I've seen, Asian cultures tend to value conformity, while American culture tends to be more individualist and value standing out. So in a way those seeking to conform and assimilate cling closer to their culture of origin while those who exhibit and flaunt the trappings of their culture of origin have actually assimilated more.

My culture shares some of these tendencies to value conformity, and over the years I've had close encounters with migrants, dreamers, second-third generation, and latino citizens. Since I'm firmly in my culture of origin, I have no need to flaunt my origin -in fact by desiring to conform, I avoid mentioning it at all costs-, and I have come across these people who claim my culture as part of their heritage and they flaunt it. Despite having lost all connection to it. And we have clashed, because it isn't clear I'm not American during these exchanges. I've been called lots of ugly names across the internet... (Also, I didn't like Coco. )

But I digress. TLDR, sometimes wanting to cling to an heritage means you are more assimilated than you would want, and wanting to conform and not stand out means you aren't as assimilated as you would want.

I will come back to this thread when I have had time to watch and reflect on the movie.


Mod Squad
Staff member
@GreyLord I think there is a paradox at play. Without attempting to overgeneralize, from what I've seen, Asian cultures tend to value conformity, while American culture tends to be more individualist and value standing out.

Only if you stand out along with an In Group. If you actually stand out alone, that's a problem in American culture.


Not your screen monkey (he/him) 🇺🇦🇵🇸🏳️‍⚧️
Welcome to poorly used identity politics in which a reviewer, such as Andrew Lu, draws on his take on Chinese culture to deny the authenticity of someone else's view despite her being from that culture. If you look at his review, he says "As an ethnic Chinese person, I am uniquely positioned in my understanding of Chinese culture." Uniquely?

Wow, if that's not a red flag, I don't know what else is. Moreover, if he's writing from the perspective of an ethnically Chinese guy living in India where his family immigrated in the 19th century, I'm going to say he has little context to criticize a director's portrayal of a Chinese mother in Canada when she herself was born in China, emigrated to Canada as a small child, and has a bona fide Chinese mother.

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