White reviewers don’t need to see themselves in Pixar’s ‘Turning Red’

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A few days before the Mar. 11 release date of Pixar’s Turning Red, CinemaBlend’s managing director Sean O’Connell wrote a review calling the story “exhausting” to endure because it wasn’t made for a “universal audience.”

Although the review has since been removed and apologies have been issued by both CinemaBlend and O’Connell, the piece has been called out for what it is—a whiny, racist complaint.

Turning Red features themes like puberty and complicated family dynamics—experiences surely relatable to anyone. O’Connell criticized the film’s apparent lack of relatability because of the main character Mei’s Chinese culture.

O’Connell apparently feels he’s entitled to the privileging of whiteness in all stories he consumes.

Domee Shi, the first Asian woman director of a Pixar film, has created art that can resonate deeply with a Chinese-Canadian audience—and that’s a wonderful thing.

Film criticism is inherently subjective, but reviewers like O’Connell shouldn’t abuse their privilege to criticize movies for giving long-overdue representation to minority cultures and ethnicities.

A harmful review like the one written by O’Connell can have radical consequences for the already limited representation of East Asian cultures in Western media. Creators of colour should feel safe to expand the diversity of mainstream narratives—not be punished for it.

Art should act as both a mirror and window—it should reflect something familiar to us, but also give a chance to explore a worldview different from our own.

Calling Turning Red’s non-white narrative “limiting in its scope”—as O’Connell put it—demonstrates a lack of curiosity about and blatant disrespect for other people’s experiences when these other people aren’t white.

Relatability doesn’t automatically equal quality. It’s possible to not relate to a red panda, yet still appreciate the animation style of the film, the catchiness of the soundtrack, and the character development within the plot.

Striving for a “relatable” film often means producing similar stories catering only to a specific,  white audience. It’s a distinct process of alienating everyone else and creating a power imbalance—one that determines who gets to have the spotlight.

O’Connell stated how “exhausting” Turning Red was for him to endure because he couldn’t connect with the main character. Ironically, he failed to consider how historically exhausting it’s been for minority groups to endure Hollywood’s marginalization of their cultures.

A lack of relatability in media can be a great thing. It can allow the audience to think about the deeper themes a piece of media is trying to portray and engage with stories that aren’t identical to their own.

At the same time, it’s nearly impossible to create truly “unrelatable” art—what’s made by humans will carry an implicit connection to some part of the human experience.

An audience doesn’t have to be from the same culture as the characters to learn from their experiences or appreciate their values—we’re looking at you, O’Connell.

Next time we enter the movie theatre, let’s leave our biases behind and enjoy the show.

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