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‘Turning Red’ criticized by some parents for embracing female puberty and menstruation

turning red period
Image: Pixar
  • Pixar’s “Turning Red” has drawn negative criticism from parents who are uncomfortable with exposing children to what they deem “adult topics” for scenes in which the characters discuss female puberty and menstruation.

  • Chinese Canadian director Domee Shi and Chinese American production designer Rona Liu, on the other hand, say they set out to depict an honest story that aims to help young women feel heard and seen.

  • The PG-rated film has also garnered praise for destigmatizing and normalizing menstruation.

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Pixar’s latest animated feature “Turning Red” has drawn negative criticism from parents for including scenes in which characters discuss female puberty and menstruation.

Directed by Chinese Canadian filmmaker Domee Shi, the film follows the story of Meilin “Mei” Lee, a 13-year-old Chinese Canadian girl from Toronto who discovers that she has inherited the ability to transform into a giant red panda when emotionally provoked. The PG-rated coming-of-age story is an allegory for puberty that many have also praised for normalizing the taboo topic of menstruation.

Near the beginning of the movie, Mei wakes up one morning to find out that she has transformed into a giant red panda. Embarrassed and afraid, she locks herself in the bathroom, and her mother, Ming, assumes she got her first period. Ming attempts to soothe her daughter while introducing her to different types of sanitary napkins.

In addition to CinemaBlend’s Sean O’Connell and New York pastor Mike Signorelli’s infamous negative reviews of the film, “Turning Red” has also made some parents feel uncomfortable with their children being exposed to “adult topics like puberty and menstruation.” 

“Disney has long held an established trust by parents in this country that anything that had the Disney label parents just knew about vetting they could trust to be safe for this children but Disney has finally now officially violated that trust once and for all by publishing this smut,” one user wrote in their review on Rotten Tomatoes.

“Leave sexuality out of [children’s] entertainment,” another reviewer wrote. “Let kids be kids and let parents handle the coming of age issues.”

On Facebook, one user shared, “I would not feel comfortable allowing our oldest daughter (age 7) to watch this movie because she wouldn’t understand what is happening to the girl and because Disney shouldn’t be teaching our daughters about puberty…?!”

“I highly recommend watching the new Disney Pixar movie ‘Turning Red’ WITHOUT your children before you consider letting them watch it,” another Facebook user posted. “We watched all the way to the part where the mom brings in Ibuprofen & pads. I am absolutely mortified. It’s safe to say that I’ve learned my lesson about reading movie reviews before I let my boys watch.” 

Shi previously told NextShark that the film is deeply personal, having been inspired by her own experiences growing up. 

“I just wanted to tell something that was true to me, and I wanted to share it with the world.”  

Chinese American production designer Rona Liu voiced similar sentiments, saying that the film’s story “is so personal to [Shi], but also to all of us making it. I was Mei growing up. I was that hormonal teenager who was struggling with her relationship with her mom. Having something so authentic and so true as a subject matter makes so much more of a rich and relatable story.”

In an interview with Polygon, one of the film’s producers, Lindsey Collins, said, “Everybody on the crew was unapologetic in support of having these real conversations about periods and about these moments in girls’ lives.”

“Turning Red”’s women-led team wanted to depict an honest story that aims to help young women feel heard and seen. By doing so, their film  also garnered praise for destigmatizing menstruation. 

“Never in my life have I seen mainstream media aimed at children show pads or even speak the word ‘period,’” one Rotten Tomatoes reviewer wrote. “If I had seen something like this when I started puberty, I think I would’ve been a lot less hard on myself.”

“It’s very creepy how some people are saying Turning Red is ‘inappropriate for kids’ because it talks about periods. I was 11 when I had my first period. It was part of my childhood,” a Twitter user wrote. “The biological reality of little girls should not be a taboo.”

In an interview with Mashable, OB-GYN Dr. Amy Roskin said that the film “shows kids that they’re not alone in their development process, and it provides an example of someone who’s likely experiencing many of the same things that they are.”

“I do think there’s an appetite for stories of this nature,” she added. “I think that the absence of stories like ‘Turning Red’ highlights the missed opportunity to use pop culture to engage in important conversations about puberty and sex, but I’m optimistic that ‘Turning Red’ will be a turning point for movies and shows to begin to tackle these issues head on.”

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