[INTERVIEW] ‘TURNING RED’ Destigmatizes Female Puberty With Wit & Wisdom

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Courtney Howard // Film Critic

TURNING RED marks a turning point for Disney-Pixar. The hilarious and heartfelt animated feature centered on a 13-year-old girl (voiced by Rosalie Chiang), who unwittingly gets caught in the tumultuous throes of puberty and turns into a giant red panda when she’s stressed, explores the growing pains of girlhood through a compassionate, empathetic lens. And while it’s a hyper-realized allegory the filmmakers create, their protagonist’s intense situational circumstance is a very real biological change at least half of our world’s population goes through.

Director-co-writer Domee Shi, along with co-writer Julia Cho and producer Lindsey Collins, set out to make a film that takes the stigma out of female puberty, providing a witty, wild and wonderful portrayal women, young and old, can see their struggle reflected. At the film’s recent virtual global press conference, Shi defiantly posits,

“Why was it ever not normal?”

Collins converses,

“But it’s just not shown… ever!”

Shi continues,

“When we came up with it, it didn’t feel like a big deal. It was funny, and it felt real.”

Cho adds,

“It feels very timely, ‘cause I think we are living in this cultural shift where it has gone from being something to be embarrassed and ashamed of, to being really embraced.  I mean, there are graphic novels now that are all about it. And my daughter is reading books. It just feels like this whole new generation, for them it just is normal. To write a film that reflects that is… I love it.”

Collins suspects that the willingness to normalize female puberty might be courtesy of a generational shift in thinking.

“As we all can sit in attest, the conversation or lack of conversation we all had with our parents, as we were going through it, was pretty minimal. And now, as parents talking to this next generation who’s going through it, because of that, we’re trying to be much more intentional, much more kind of open about it. I love that this movie, basically in a funny and charming way, lets people laugh about it. Normalize it, and have you cringe in a way that collectively we’re all like, ‘Oh, my god, yes, I remember that.’”

In some kind of fortunate stroke of synergy, she adds many of the moms on the crew have had first-hand experience with their own daughters’ dealings.

“It was helpful to us having made this movie to actually go and be like, ‘All right, I’m gonna go talk about this differently.’ Or ‘I’m gonna normalize it somehow.’ I think it is, actually, really important.”

Since it can be a scary time for many young women, TURNING RED will undoubtedly provide comfort. Shi says,

“I hope so. To make it for the 13-year-old me, who was like, ‘What is happening to me?  No one’s telling me anything.’ I think that’s so cool that it can do that, but also make you laugh as well.”

Collins agrees.

“One of the worst things about going through some of this is how alone it makes you feel. It feels so foreign, so sudden, and so personal, and a little out of control. You feel like you don’t quite understand your own behavior. You’re supposed to be the expert on yourself, and it feels very weird and you feel off kilter. Hopefully this movie will kind of dispel that. It’s part of you becoming an adult. All of these weird feelings is actually good. It’s a huge evolutionary growth moment in your life, and it’s really okay.  Um, so yeah, I think it’s-I think it’s so important. And hopefully, they look to it for comfort.”

TURNING RED is streaming exclusively on Disney+ starting today.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.