The cast and filmmakers behind Disney/Pixar’s upcoming animated feature “Turning Red” have spoken out to tout its universal coming-of-age themes after a review posted by outlet CinemaBlend on Tuesday generated online backlash. The review, written by the site’s managing director Sean O’Connell, was pulled by the outlet after press on social media took issue with the article for its perceived sexist and racist viewpoints.
The film, directed and co-written by Oscar winner Domee Shi, centers on a 13-year-old girl named Mei Lee, who is torn between family loyalty and the chaos of puberty and the growing pains of middle school. Along the way, she routinely turns into a giant red panda.
“Throughout ‘Turning Red,’ Domee Shi and her co-screenwriter Julia Cho pepper in jokes and references that will speak directly to teenage girls, be it their bonds over sappy pop songs, or their heated lust for older teen dudes,” O’Connell’s since-deleted review said. “Without question, ‘Turning Red’ is the horniest movie in Pixar history, which parents no doubt will find surprising. I recognized the humor in the film, but connected with none of it. By rooting ‘Turning Red’ very specifically in the Asian community of Toronto, the film legitimately feels like it was made for Domee Shi’s friends and immediate family members. Which is fine… but also, a tad limiting in its scope.”
In a since-deleted tweet sharing the review, O’Connell wrote, “Some Pixar films are made for universal audiences. ‘Turning Red’ is not. The target audience for this one feels very specific and very narrow. If you are in it, this might work very well for you. I am not in it. This was exhausting.”
O’Connell’s review appeared to question the film’s appeal as a story about a young girl of Asian background going through the changes of youth.
In an interview with CBC, Rosalie Chiang, who voices Mai, disagreed with the review, saying, “This is a coming-of-age film. Everyone goes through this change. … I think different people of different cultures are going to go through it differently, but at the end of the day, the core messiness and change is something everyone can relate to.”
Co-star Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, who voices Mei’s friend Priya, echoed Chiang’s remarks, saying that audiences will be able “to relate to Meilin’s story, regardless of whether you are a young Chinese girl from Canada or not.”
Director Shi, also disagreeing with the review, added that the film “is a love letter to that time of our lives. It’s a love letter to puberty. It’s a love letter to Toronto.”
In the hours after the review was posted on Tuesday, CinemaBlend pulled the article, with Editor-in-Chief Mack Rawden issuing an apology on Twitter and announcing the outlet would assign the film to another writer. “We failed to properly edit this review, and it never should have gone up. We have unpublished it and assigned to someone else. We have also added new levels of editorial oversight. Thank you to everyone who spoke up,” Rawden wrote. See below.
O’Connell also went on to issue an apology for the review, tweeting, “I’m genuinely sorry for my ‘Turning Red’ review. Thank you to everyone who has reached out with criticism, no matter how harsh. It is clear that I didn’t engage nearly enough with the movie, nor did I explain my point of view well, at all. I really appreciate your feedback.”
“This was written by your MANAGING DIRECTOR not some junior writer,” Entertainment Weekly digital editor Yolanda Machado wrote in response to the apology. “As an editor, there is no amount of editing that would have erased the racism. What are you doing to make sure he is held accountable and this doesn’t happen again? (has happened before!)”
Shi recently spoke to IndieWire about the particular risks of bringing a “magical puberty” story to Disney and Pixar. “It was definitely a risk to tackle that subject of a girl’s sexuality awakening on screen. But it was so important and funny, and a scene that we couldn’t not put it in the movie. It’s so real. [Puberty] has happened to all of us, every single adult. The challenge was how do we do it in a funny and unexpected way in a Disney movie.”
“Turning Red” heads straight to Disney+ on Friday, March 11.
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