Fans aren’t too happy about ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’s’ Southeast Asian rep

Fans say the new film's Southeast Asian influences are "a strange mix that won’t truly represent… anyone?"

Yesterday, Disney released the first full trailer to Raya and the Last Dragon, their next big animated flick starring Kelly Marie Tran. The movie was sounding like a historic feat for Disney films, the first Southeast Asian-led film with Asian talent and incorporating Southeast Asian culture. But, as some fans of Southeast Asian descent argue, it isn’t the representation they really wanted or were asking for.

See, Raya and the Last Dragon has been described as a film that’s influenced by many different Southeast Asian cultures. Instead of telling one specific Southeast Asian country’s story, it pools them all together, which fans of these varied Southeast Asian backgrounds say doesn’t actually represent them. Worse, it leads them to believe that Raya and the Last Dragon is the only representation they’ll ever see from Walt Disney at all. 

“I don’t understand why they couldn’t have picked one SEA [South East Asian] culture to get inspired by for this film and keep the same premise,” wrote Mon, a Chinese-American illustrator and background artist. “Instead, it’s a strange mix that won’t truly represent… anyone? Are all SEA cultures interchangeable or?”

“Of course people can get excited for Raya and the Last Dragon,” added author and cosplayer Xiran Jay Zhao, “but I don’t want everyone to pat Disney on the back for going as generic as possible in their Southeast Asian rep so they can cover the broadest audience. They’re never going to improve without the pressure of criticism.”

“Also like… you know there’s never going to be a Disney princess from a specific Southeast Asian culture after this because she’ll be “competing” in the merchandise market with Raya. So this is… it. This is it for the entire region, because they decided to make it so broad.”

“With East Asia, at least there’s still hope for a Korean or Japanese princess because Mulan was specifically Chinese, but Raya is IT. They made her rep the entirety of Southeast Asia.”

And, y’know, they’ve got a point. While the same thing could be said about Moana, a character and film that was an amalgamation of Pacific Island and Polynesian cultures, the majority of Disney’s princesses from real world places are rooted in specific countries and cultures. The Princess and the Frog’s Tiana is a Black American girl, Frozen’s Elsa and Anna are Norwegian, and Pocahontas is Native American.

We’ll know more about how Raya and the Last Dragon represents Southeast Asian cultures when the film releases on the 12th of March next year.

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