Reviews posted on the CinemaBlend website of Disney-Pixar’s new animated film Be Red was pulled on Tuesday, after some readers criticized it for ignoring its creators’ cultural experiences — and the film’s cast argued that the film was very much a universal experience.
The film, which premiered on Friday, was directed and co-written by Canadian animator Domee Shi and will be Pixar’s first feature-length feature film directed by an Asian woman. The film follows the story of Meilin (May) Lee, a 13-year-old Canadian Chinese girl living in Toronto who discovers that she has the ability to transform into a giant red panda.
The review, written by CinemaBlend managing director Sean O’Connell, complained that the film’s focus on Lee’s Asian background – as well as the storyline revolving around Lee’s struggles through puberty as a young girl – limited the film’s ability to connect with audiences.
“I recognize the humor in the film, but it has nothing to do with it,” O’Connell wrote in his review.
“By rooting Be Red especially in Toronto’s Asian community, this film legitimately feels like it was made for Domee Shi’s friends and close family members. Which is fine — but also, slightly limits its scope.”
When asked if that might be a problem for the audience, Be RedThe cast disagrees.
“Of course not,” Rosalie Chiang, who plays Lee, told CBC News in an interview. “This is a future film, everyone goes through these changes… I think different people from different cultures will go through it differently, but in the end, the chaos and core change is something that everyone can relate to.”
Canadian actor Maitreyi Ramakrishnan — who plays Lee’s friend Priya — described Lee’s friends and family stories as “universal,” and that many people would be able to “connect to Meilin’s story, whether or not you’re a young Chinese girl from Canada.”
Shi also disagreed with the review, saying the film “is a love letter to that time in our lives. It is a love letter to puberty. It is a love letter to Toronto.”
Critic, problem editor-in-chief apologizes
Much of the criticism surrounding the review stems from O’Connell dismissing elements of Asian culture as alienating.
Reviews point to other movies, The Mitchells vs. The Machines as an animated film that “attempts to include plot elements that everyone finds interesting,” and points to Be Red‘s “mystical red panda” as very difficult for the audience to identify with.
Hours after the post went up — and after hundreds of online comments complaining about the content — CinemaBlend withdrew reviews, and both O’Connell and editor-in-chief Mack Rawden issued apologies.
“I’m really sorry for Be Red review,” O’Connell wrote on Twitter. “Thanks to everyone who has critiqued, no matter how harsh.”
“Obviously I wasn’t involved enough with the film, nor did I explain my point of view well, at all. I really appreciate your feedback.”
In a tweet shared by the CinemaBlend account, Rawden stated that the site “failed to properly edit” O’Connell’s review. He stated that the review had been moved to another author, and the site had added “a new level of editorial scrutiny.”
We failed to properly edit this review, and should never have gone up. We have unpublished it and assigned it to someone else. We’ve also added a new level of editorial oversight. Thanks to everyone who spoke up. – Mack Rawden, Chief Editor https://t.co/kfkfwlf4q8
In a deleted tweet promoting the review, O’Connell further said that while “some Pixar films are made for a universal audience, Be Red no.”
“If you’re in [the target audience], this might work well for you. I’m not in it. It’s tiring.”
When contacted by CBC, O’Connell declined to comment for this article.
Be Red is scheduled to premiere on Friday, March 11, and currently holds a 94 percent “fresh” rating on review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes.
Although it was originally slated to debut in theaters as well as online, earlier this year Disney’s president of Media Distribution and Entertainment Kareem Daniel said Be Red will premiere only on the Disney+ streaming platform “due to delays in the restoration of the family film in theaters caused by the ongoing pandemic.”
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