Review of ‘Turning Red’ that criticized the movie’s characters as unrelatable prompts backlash, apologies

turning red review
  • CinemaBlend’s Managing Director Sean O’Connell was heavily criticized online for his review of Disney Pixar’s “Turning Red,” which he deemed an “exhausting” film not “made for a universal audience.”
  • His review circulated on Twitter, leading many users to accuse him of dismissing the movie because it featured Asian protagonists, whom he criticized as unrelatable.
  • “This is what happens when white males are presented as the default. Audiences have empathized with white male protagonists forever but you get one Asian girl in animation and these people question their existence,” POC Culture tweeted in response.
  • The online backlash prompted a Twitter apology from both O'Connell and CinemaBlend’s Editor-in-Chief Mack Rawden.

A review of Disney Pixar’s “Turning Red” published by CinemaBlend was taken down after it was heavily criticized online.

CinemaBlend Managing Director Sean O’Connell deemed Pixar’s latest animated feature “exhausting” and not “made for a universal audience.” His review, in which he gave the film two-and-a-half stars, has since been unpublished from the publication’s website, although it can be found archived online.  

“Turning Red” follows the story of a 13-year-old Chinese Canadian girl who, in the midst of puberty nightmares, discovers she has inherited the ability to transform into a giant red panda when emotionally provoked. It is also Pixar’s first feature-length film directed by an Asian woman. Domee Shi, who previously won an Academy Award for her Pixar short “Bao” in 2019, also managed an historically all-female creative leadership team.

“‘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,” O’Connell wrote in his review. “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.”

O’Connell also shared the review’s link to his official Twitter account, writing, “Some Pixar films are made for a universal audience. #TurningRed is not. The target audience for this one feels very specific, and very narrow. If you are in it, this might work well for you. I am not in it. This was exhausting.”

The tweet, which has now been deleted, circulated online along with his full review, with many online criticizing him for dismissing a movie featuring an Asian American protagonist as unrelatable.

“God, this is terrible criticism,” Backstage Senior Editor Vinnie Mancuso tweeted. “Writing about art requires empathy. ‘This wasn’t made for me’ is a starting point, not THE point.”

The online backlash prompted an apology from both O’Connell and CinemaBlend’s Editor-in-Chief Mack Rawden.

“I’m genuinely sorry for my Turning Red review,” O’Connell wrote. “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.”

In his tweet, Rawden said: “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.”

Many users were not satisfied with his apology, however, claiming that he only apologized because he was afraid of being “canceled.”

“You’re just apologizing [because] you’re scared of being canceled and called out for the narrow POV you have and what little influence you have left,” another user wrote. “Leave your original tweet up so people like me, who have felt seen by this filmmaker since ‘Bao,’ can be reminded of why stories matter.”

“Okay, but why was it EXHAUSTING to watch?” one user asked. “You weren’t exhausted relating to rats, fish, monsters, robots, etc, so why is this story such a struggle for you? 🧐” 

In an interview with CBC News, Rosalie Chiang, who plays lead Meilin “Mei” Lee, said in response to O’Connell’s criticism: “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.”

Director Shi also pushed back on the review, telling CBC her 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.”

Disney Pixar’s “Turning Red” features voice actors Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Hyein Park, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho and James Hong. The film will premiere on Disney Plus on March 11.

 

Featured Images via Pixar

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