Raya and the Last Dragon is a lot extra than simply the newest Disney flick, a minimum of for me. Admittedly, I’m not even an enormous Disney fan. But by some means due to Raya, there’s a bit woman in me who lastly feels seen.
Growing up in America, I rarely noticed Asians in films or tv. And if I did, they had been not often brown and Southeast Asian like me. Finally, that’s altering.
Raya is voiced by Kelly Marie Tran, who’s Vietnamese American. The movie is impressed by various Southeast Asian cultures. The screenplay was written by Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim, who each hint their roots again to Southeast Asia. That’s one purpose why there are such a lot of cool cultural easter Eggs to seek out in the movie. Raya’s title means “celebration” in Malay. She will get round by using atop her animal sidekick named “Tuk Tuk,” who shares its title with Cambodia’s iconic motorbike-powered carriages (you’ll discover related units of wheels throughout a lot of Southeast Asia).
In a teaser that just about made me cry (and I’m not a cryer), Raya wields what seem like bamboo Arnis sticks — weapons utilized in Filipino martial arts. Her sword is harking back to the Indonesian kris. The epic fight scenes in the movie additionally draw from preventing types from Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.
If lots of that’s unfamiliar to you, I don’t blame you. I was born in the Philippines and I didn’t even study Arnis till I was in faculty in the US. When you don’t see your self mirrored in the world round you, you lose out on quite a bit. That’s why it means a lot to see Raya, brown and badass, wielding the similar weapons that my ancestors did to struggle.
As a complete, Asian Americans are already underrepresented in media — however Southeast Asians are sometimes much more ignored. “Asian American” is a gigantic umbrella that encompasses many peoples, cultures, and languages. Lumping everybody into one group can obscure that range. Even worse, it could actually make some communities and the inequities they face invisible.
That’s an issue that’s usually talked about as a scarcity of “disaggregated data” for the Asian American and Pacific Islander umbrella group. There usually isn’t sufficient information collected that breaks down how experiences fluctuate from group to group. For occasion, many Southeast Asians got here to the US as refugees after the Vietnam War or the Cambodian genocide by the Khmer Rouge — and that may make their migration tales, and the sources they’ve entry to in America, very totally different than others who immigrated.
Poverty amongst Hmong Americans, a lot of whom got here to the US as refugees after cooperating with the US throughout its “Secret War” in Laos, is twice as excessive — 26 % — as it’s amongst the Asian American neighborhood as a complete. That form of information is critical to dispel the Asian mannequin minority delusion, a stereotype that harms all Asian Americans as a result of it wrongly assumes that our communities have already got entry to all the sources we want.
If you’ve seen Raya and even simply its trailers, then you understand that the film is about learn how to deliver communities collectively. Disaggregating information isn’t about dividing anybody. To deliver of us collectively, it’s important to first see one another.
In Raya and the Last Dragon, we see its characters face adversity that matches into Southeast Asia’s fashionable historical past: there’s battle, loss, starvation, and an extended seek for therapeutic. The main characters kind a form of blended household of refugees who’re constructing a brand new world collectively after every of them have misplaced almost every thing.
I’m not saying the film and its depictions are excellent. It’s a Disney-fied model of actual life, in spite of everything. The film nonetheless blends all the totally different cultures of Southeast Asia right into a single fantasy world, and Disney’s been criticized in the previous for making a monolithic tradition in films like Moana and Mulan that once more “aggregate” points from totally different peoples. Raya will most likely face a complete lot of scrutiny, partly due to the strain to pretty characterize an enormous group of individuals whose tales largely haven’t been advised in mainstream media earlier than. I’m already feeling the strain from penning this submit, realizing that there are issues I’ll overlook.
But on this case, I’ll take an argument about how a narrative ought to be advised over no story in any respect. Hopefully, it opens up room for extra tales to floor.