Turning Red

We talk about Turning Red, the newest Pixar film, directed by Toronto filmmaker Domee Shi, about a thirteen year old Chinese Canadian girl, Meilin Lee, who finds out that when she gets emotional, she turns into a big, red panda. Meilin also has to navigate life as a middle schooler and all that this entails, which includes learning how to manage her crushes, bullies and strict parents. Turning Red is also a movie that is about fitting in and about the vital importance of friendships. Which makes it a perfect topic for Academic Aunties! So today, we’re unpacking this film, and be warned: there are spoilers.

Joining us is Dr. Yvonne Su (@suyvonne), an Assistant Professor in the Department of Equity Studies at York University.

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[00:00:00] Ethel Tungohan: I'm Dr. Ethel Tungohan an associate professor of politics at York University. This is Academic Aunties. Today's episode is all about Turning Red, the newest Pixar film about a 13 year old Chinese Canadian girl, Meilin Lee who finds out that when she gets emotional, she turns into a big red panda. Meilin also has to navigate life as a middle schooler and all that this entails, which includes learning how to manage her crushes, bullies and strict parents. Turning Red is also a movie that is about fitting in and about the vital importance of friendships, which makes it the perfect topic for Academic Aunties. So today we're unpacking this film and be warned, there are spoilers.

[00:00:47] We're joined by my dear friend, Dr. Yvonne Su, who has a lot of thoughts on the film. We'll be talking about the parallels between Meilin's experiences of attempting to fit in and how she is read and our own experiences in the academy and how we as Asian women are read. We rail against the model minority myth.

[00:01:04] We think about how these boxes that we're put into are similar to Meilin and her mom, and how these boxes are constraining and oftentimes work to our detriment because they merely reinforce a system that wasn't built for us. Auntie Yvonne, would you'd like to introduce herself?

[00:01:19] Yvonne Su: Yes. Well, first of all, thank you so much Ethel for inviting me, similar to you, this has been top of mind.

[00:01:25] I watched it when it came out on Friday with my cousin and we loved it and I'm so happy we could talk about it here, but also with an academic context. So I'm Yvonne Su. I'm a Chinese Canadian that was born in China and I came to Canada when I was six and I grew up just outside Toronto in a small town.

[00:01:44] Um, and I, my parents wanted me to be a doctor. Uh, medical doctor. Pediatrician specifically. So I did become a doctor. It was just a different type of doctor, and I'm very happy to be at York as an Assistant Professor, the Department of Equity Studies, and a lot of my work actually revolves around refugee forced migration, refugee immigration, migration.

[00:02:10] So in a way, it. Full circle, um, because my experiences growing up informed what I wanted to study, uh, similar to the director, Domee Shi, in terms of how her experiences growing up led to this film, and it was so successful and something I said to my students, cause I showed this to my students, is that, um, the personal is political, right?

[00:02:36] And here we are, here it is. And that representation matters. And you kind of see everything that we try to teach our students become so real and, and represented by Pixar and Disney. And there's this amazing, uh, glass ceiling breaking director, you know, at the height of her career. Well, probably not even at the height of career, she's probably just starting, she's a trailblazer, but all this is is great to showcase to our students.

[00:02:59] Ethel Tungohan: A hundred percent. I also talked to my Diaspora and the Limits of Citizenship class on Tuesday. Um, and it was related to the theme of the class. Right. But yeah, I mean, I also want to kind of shout out, uh, you know, Torontonian, Domee Shi. She got her degree from Sheridan College and get this auntie Yvonne. Her mom was a PhD student.

[00:03:21] At OISE at the University of Toronto.

[00:03:24] Yvonne Su: My gosh.

[00:03:25] Ethel Tungohan: I mean, this is a Torontonian who, who did well, right? Yes.

[00:03:30] Yvonne Su: Yeah. Representation. It's great.

[00:03:32] Ethel Tungohan: Yeah. Well, you know what, let's talk about the film itself. So what did you think?

[00:03:37] Yvonne Su: It was so relatable. So relatable. Uh, and of course, you know, because we're, we're we follow social media, we know there was a white man critic who says that it was not relatable.

[00:03:50] The story, I know. So you can imagine my feelings when I found it so relatable and I think she did, and the whole team did such a great job of not just, depicting the experiences of a 13 year old, Chinese Canadian, the intergenerational struggles, what her life would look like balancing school and kind of work.

[00:04:14] If you think about it, she kind of worked at the temple, right. And try to manage all these, right, cause she worked. I don't think they really painted it as work, but it's also a story that many immigrant children can relate to who possibly did have to work one way or another. I helped my parents out at a Chinese food restaurant every single day after school.

[00:04:36] Right. Get off the bus, go work at the restaurant until I left for university 18. So that was like too real. And then we know other immigrants, you know, children or students who have to work at laundrymats and convenience stores are just like tutor to make money or like paper routes. So that job aspect was, was super relatable.

[00:04:56] Um, and then in general, I think the film was just great at bringing to light a lot of issues that are usually aren't really talked about again, especially the intergenerational aspect, uh, uh, Mei Lee's his relationship with, uh, her mother Ming, and then Ming's relationship with her mother and then the aunties.

[00:05:16] Right? So like, you don't really see all those different dynamics in one film. Right. Especially a Western film.

[00:05:24] Ethel Tungohan: It is, it is a western film. It's set in Toronto, right. In contrast to other Disney movies, the most common point of contrast would be like Mulan, which, I mean, I watched it. I mean, I liked it, but I didn't really relate to it.

[00:05:38] I mean, you know what I mean? We're in CA you know, it wasn't really part of, kind of my day to day reality. So it was a fantasy. Okay. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:05:49] Yvonne Su: Very othering because it is because it's so traditionally, well, there's the two versions, right. But I would say both versions were very traditionally Chinese or that's what they were trying to portray.

[00:06:00] Right. There's definitely the first one, the animated one with, um, uh, Murphy.

[00:06:06] Ethel Tungohan: Eddie Murphy was the dragon.

[00:06:07] Yvonne Su: And he brought a lot of humor. Yeah. They tried to westernize it through his humor, but the imagery right. Was very like Chinese. And then all those storylines, you can kind of make it relatable.

[00:06:20] Ethel Tungohan: It was very pan Asian.

[00:06:22] Like I remember when Milan was out, I was young. Right. And, uh, you know, I remember my friends being like, oh, look, you can be like Mulan when we would play princesses. And they'd be like, I want to be Ariel, what are you talking about? Right. But the thing is, I remember kind of even back then, and I was really little like hearing coverage, uh, they actually took a lot of different elements from like different east Asian countries and kind of slapped them together in the movie. So right. In terms of kind of authenticity, it wasn't really there. I mean, not that, you know, we can ever expect a Disney movie to be that authentic, but then, you know, this movie Turning Red, completely relatable.

[00:07:01] It was completely authentic. We're both from Toronto. I mean, it, it, I mean, obviously it's a stylized Toronto, right. But it, it, it featured the CN tower. It featured Chinatown. So it was, it did kind of make clear that this came from, you know, someone who knows the city, who knows Toronto and knows, knows kind of the cultural elements too.

[00:07:21] Right.

[00:07:22] Yvonne Su: You know what I can speak from this cause I'm Cantonese. Right. And the film is of a Cantonese family. Right. You won't really know that if you don't speak Cantonese, but I think really kudos to Domee for like really putting her foot down and not letting it be Pan-Asian. Cause you're absolutely right that Disney has had an issue with that. Like Raya, or Raya or Rya the last dragon was criticized for that. Right where they really put all different types of like east Asian culture and like mashed it together. Right. And that pissed off a lot of the audience. But in this case, because I'm Cantonese, I can recognize that like the TV show she was watching was Cantonese.

[00:08:06] Right? Yeah. The type of food she was eating was clearly Cantonese. And then the chants, and it's in the style of the temple. You know, so there was a lot of detail and a lot of authenticity that like, and true to her, how she grew up.

[00:08:21] Ethel Tungohan: Yeah. And so I think as someone who is Cantonese, are there elements of the movie that you were like, oh my gosh, that actually is real. And do you think these elements are things that others who are in Cantonese would have missed?

[00:08:34] Yvonne Su: Well, yes.

[00:08:36] The ritual. So I, I, you know, don't quote me on this. I have not looked at every Disney film ever. Um, but when films in general, but I don't think that Cantonese or Chinese, so there's not that one was not necessarily Cantonese, but there was chanting in Cantonese, those types of rituals with the moon, with the circle, with the coming together with a shaman like that's, I don't think that's ever really shown on film.

[00:09:03] Right. So I thought that they had captured it really well and this idea of the spirit world and the, and the panda going through various realms. Like that was really interesting. And I think it's interesting because it actually gives, um, you know, a lot of Chinese immigrants, an opportunity to explain something that is so hard to explain.

[00:09:23] So like growing up, I would often have to explain my mom's kooky beliefs.

[00:09:29] Because there's no explanation. It would just be like, oh, like, I don't know. Let me think. It's like you there's certain days you can't shower. Right? I think on New Year's I think on New Year's, Chinese New Year's day, you can't shower because you're, you're washing away your luck.

[00:09:46] Ethel Tungohan: Hmm,

[00:09:47] Yvonne Su: I'm sure. In the Philippines culture there's something, there's something similar. There are just strange beliefs that like, we can't explain to people who don't have a similar cultural background or like you have to wear certain colors and certain days, or like there are certain bracelets that are of a certain color or certain fabric or jade.

[00:10:04] You know, that that gives you protection. That because there's not that much exposure to these ideas in the Western world, when you tell people about it, like what? So for them to kind of show it so visually, and for it to all make sense was very like, I guess the word is legitimizing.

[00:10:21] Ethel Tungohan: One thing that you mentioned that I wanted to unpack a little bit is this notion of intergenerational trauma, right.

[00:10:29] And, uh, looking at some of the responses on like Asian-American, Asian- Canadian, Twitter. There's been a lot of mixed responses to that. So, um, the response, so for me, I'll just share this. I was like, you know what, it's bang on. I mean, I think, um, her mom, um, you can see in the beginning of the movie, you know, she had an award as a small business owner.

[00:10:53] She's really trying hard to establish herself. So she is falling in line with model minority tropes, right? And for her mom, um, her version of success and perhaps, maybe her version of trying to protect her daughter is by kind of embodying all of these trappings of success. Right. And that's, that's traumatic too.

[00:11:12] And we meet the grandma and you're like, okay, I guess this is why she is who she is. So for me, I didn't read this story as affirming or stereotyping Asian parents and Asian daughters as kind of being ensnared in this oppressive relationship. I thought there was a little bit more nuance, but you know, a lot of folks on Asian-American and Asian-American Twitter were like, oh, it's kind of falling in line with these stereotypes as well. There's like, you know, these stories that we need to escape from, and I was wondering auntie Yvonne, what your take was on that.

[00:11:45] Yvonne Su: I totally get why there is a debate. And I would say that in a weird way I think the director of the team steered away from getting too deep into that because they don't really share Ming's story. I almost feel like they kind of knew that was going to be a really difficult thing to tackle and they weren't going to satisfy anybody on that topic. So they almost skipped it a little bit, cause like the only true sense of the struggle that Ming experiences is when, um, and guess these are spoilers, right?

[00:12:17] I mean, I don't like anybody...

[00:12:18] Ethel Tungohan: I'll put a spoiler warning at the beginning of the episode.

[00:12:24] Yvonne Su: But like when the young Mei Lee meets the young Ming. Right. And they're almost around the same age and she's so sad and she's trying to make her mom happy, but like that's the only glimpse we get. So we don't really, we're all making these assumptions. So I think the director is calling by saying, you know, how you assume Ming grew up is your baggage actually, right?

[00:12:50] So if you, you know, you, you watch it because of the scar on the grandma's face because of her saying that they had a big blowout because she didn't approve of the, of the husband. Right. You can read that to be extremely oppressive, extremely traumatizing, all those things. Or you can read it without the cultural aspect in and assume that it is very normal.

[00:13:13] Right. There are disapprovals of people's partners across all cultures, right? Like most of the time your mom does not like your boyfriend or girlfriend because your little miss perfect. Why would anybody be good enough for you? Right. So I thought that was very, I think that's very clever from the director's perspective and that's also why people love films.

[00:13:35] It's because so many people can go and have a really different reaction to it and kind of see what they want to see. I mean, there's a lot of confirmation bias.

[00:13:45] Ethel Tungohan: I love, I love that you're affirming that it's confirmation bias for some. And I think what you said was really bang on, I mean, maybe let's not see this as a stereotypical portrayal of how Asian moms treat their Asian children, because I can tell you based on conversations with non-Asian friends, that we all have baggage from our parents, right.

[00:14:05] That, you know, the type of, kind of strictness that Ming displays. That's not an Asian thing. I mean, I've had like, you know, I've had other friends being like, oh my gosh, like, you know, my parents were super strict. They won't let me do this. Dah, dah, dah. Like it's not it's. So in other words, it's not just a Chinese thing or it's not even just an Asian thing.

[00:14:22] Maybe we should take out that filter and realize maybe this is just a parent child thing. And maybe, I don't know, someone said maybe this is a boomer parenting thing. I don't know. Maybe like, it depends on how we look at it. The filters we're looking at in the baggage, the baggage that we carry with us.

[00:14:37] Yvonne Su: Yeah, well, and also, like I said, I showed this to my class and my class is extremely diverse. So there were lots of students from different backgrounds who said like, my mom is exactly like this, right. She's Latino, or she's a south Asian. Right. And like they're super strict with the exact same things. And of course they want us to do well in school.

[00:15:00] Right. So it is a very cross-cultural film and I think it's very relatable. The other thing I did think about that I couldn't really, um, kind of really work out, and this is why we're having this conversation. I want to bring you into it is that I thought it was really interesting that Ming was traditionally dressed the whole time.

[00:15:20] Initially, I was like, it's because of the temple. Right. So this is her outfit for the temple, but then that was her outfit for the whole film. So it's kind of like, it makes me think of like, you know, is it smart that she dresses the way that people expect her to dress and look? Right. Or is that a way of protecting herself?

[00:15:39] Right? Because she is what you expect an Asian well-dressed Asian woman at a temple to look like, or is that some form of oppression or some form of confinement that she has put on herself?

[00:15:51] Ethel Tungohan: No, you know what? I think there's something there. And I also think, and we can now talk about you know her Panda, right.

[00:15:59] I remember messaging you Auntie Yvonne. Um, cause you know, listeners are obviously talking about this before we started taping this. Um, I, I was kind of sad actually for Ming cause then when her panda came out, I was like, holy, you know, it's this big panda, the biggest panda. So big, bigger than buildings.

[00:16:18] So that meant that she had a lot of rage, that there were a lot of things about herself that she had to keep in. And then at the end I actually thought that she would be okay with having her panda co-exist with her. Right. Like, you know, I was hoping actually that that would be everyone's journey. And yet, you know, she, you know, said goodbye to the panda and she became, you know, her old self again.

[00:16:47] Right. And so I was thinking you know, why is her panda so big? What moments has she experienced that has led her to kind of suppress, you know, her panda? Like in other words, you know, her like her, her husband said, oh, I only saw that when you know, her, her mom told us that we couldn't get married. So I keep thinking of these moments where she'd had to tamp that down. Moments that defined her and made her more restrained Made her need to be in control all the time.

[00:17:17] Yvonne Su: Yeah. I was shocked too. I think that was definitely a plot twist that I think most people didn't see coming that her panda like were prepared was the size of the SkyDome.

[00:17:29] It was gigantic in proportion to everyone else. And I think maybe it's some commentary on how like, like that generation before now, in order to survive as an immigrant. Cause we're assuming I'm, I'm assuming she's an immigrant. I mean, most people in Toronto are immigrants. She could be first or second generation, but the assumption is she's an immigrant.

[00:17:49] And Mei Lee was either born here or came here very early. But if I reflect on my parents' experiences yeah, they did have to keep their emotions in way more than I did. Right. So a clear example in all these examples language barrier. Um, which all these we're going to assume. cause we don't know, you know, Ming speaks perfect English, right.

[00:18:10] But a lot of immigrants, even second generation immigrants might not speak perfect English. So I know that with my parents, they did not speak English. I translate for them always. And I remember they always faced so much discrimination, you know. Either, either blatantly overtly or like more systematic. So we would just go to shops and my dad would get charged prices that were higher than, than, than other people in negotiations.

[00:18:39] And he would get very visibly upset and he, and also... Chinese cultures a loud culture. Right. Like where we are, you're shouting like at dinner. It's very common courtesy to be very loud, right. Because you're, you're, you're, it's festive. Right. So, you know, he would talk very loudly, but imagine he gets upset and he's very loud and like, it's just like, the people around can't handle that type of energy. So like, it sounds horrible for me to say, but I would say like, dad, like I'll handle it.

[00:19:12] I know how to talk to these people. Right. And I have to be very calm and have to say, I'm sorry, my father's just upset that this seems like the price that he's getting is higher than the prices that other people are getting. And when we do a calculation, yeah. There's actually a bit of an inflation or, you know, you're saying that, um, you have to charge us for X and Y, but it doesn't seem like you actually do the services for X and Y you know, so I actually can understand that the generation before me just had to, because of stereotypes because of racism, because of so many challenges that immigrants face, especially first-generation that they are told to keep quiet. They are told to suppress all their emotions and their feelings, put their head down, work hard, make money, suffer, sacrifice. So the next generation can be successful and thrive, you know? And this goes back to my comment about how the director may not have focused so much on Ming's actual backstory so people can put their own spin on it and put, make their own assumptions. Cause that's what I thought when I first watched it reflected on my parents' immigrant experience with difficulties they faced.

[00:20:36] Ethel Tungohan: Watching the film too I was also thinking about notions of being a model minority, right? Because one filter through which we could understand the film is that, you know, Mei's being asked to conform to a certain, you know, a certain set of, well, not whatever, she's, she's being asked to conform. She's being asked to to kind of follow her parents. She's being asked to, uh, be as perfect as always, right? Like in the beginning of the movie, you can see that she has A pluses that she helps with the temple and her friends were like, oh, you're brainwashed. And you know, um, that's actually super hurtful, but you know, towards the end, uh, she's, she's able to kind of tell her mom, look, I'm just going to go with my friends. It's okay. You can let go a little bit. And I'm almost thinking, you know, even I, as someone who's like, you know, way older than 13, even I have problems, um, trying to assert myself and trying not to fall into that model minority trap.

[00:21:36] Yvonne Su: Yes. The model minority trap is like intense because the idea is that like don't make trouble.

[00:21:43] I think that was a big theme throughout the whole thing. Like don't make trouble. Right? Don't lie. Just do well in school. Right. Keep all your emotions in. Don't burden other people with your emotions. Right. And I think that's what we're told as the model minority is that we have to be perfect, but in top of, on top of being perfect, we're also like nice and like subdued.

[00:22:06] Right. We never caused trouble if anything we're extra helpful. Yeah. Right. And we're not hostile at all. Not hostile, can't be hostile. Right. And all of that is just like pressing and holding us down. So again, the metaphor is great because we do as just normal humans. Of course we have emotions. Of course there are issues. Hostilities. Of course, we should stand up for herself. Right. If injustice is happening. But we're told all the time, that's not good. Keep it in, keep it in. Right. Don't don't poof out and hurt others

[00:22:40] Ethel Tungohan: Don't poof out and hurt others.

[00:22:42] Yvonne Su: That's what happened when she jumped off the building, when she was being bullied the whole time by that brat Tyler. Right. And the model minority thing to do when you're being bullied, when you're being blackmailed, which he blackmailed her about calling her mom. That's what I mean. So, so here, so I guess the villain is Tyler really.

[00:23:05] Essentially, you've got a, you've got somebody who's bullying her and she's being told all the time, like not to make trouble and to go along with it.

[00:23:13] And then when she did poof out and lash out and jumped on him, when she called her mom psycho, which of course is, is, is too far. Right. That was like, seen as like super bad. And I think the reason it was seen as super bad, and of course it is violence. We don't condone violence. But one thing, one of the reasons it was seen as super bad is because she had been a model minority the whole time.

[00:23:33] She had been very good the whole time. She never really stood up for herself. Any of the many times that Tyler had, um, bullied her. Right. So she tried to throw a ball at him, but you know, so stuff like that. So I think that's definitely a very strong trope and I think we can relate to that because, you know, we get told all the time we... Don't don't rock the boat auntie Ethel.

[00:23:56] Don't rock the boat. Right. You really have to stand up for yourself. Do you have to say that? Just keep quiet.

[00:24:03] Ethel Tungohan: Yeah. It's super triggering. And I think one of the things that I'm learning, um, in academia, is that thus far, you know, um, high school, undergrad, you know, I was kind of getting the grades. I was kind of checking all the boxes, right?

[00:24:22] Like model minority, you know, debate team, national honor society, all of that crap. Right. Um, and then we enter like academia. We're professors. And you would think that merit would get us where we're supposed to be. But then you realize, oh my goodness. You know, being a model minority actually harms us, uh, first because we're kind of indoctrinated into not rocking the boat and going along for the sake of going, of getting along, even as, even if getting along, screws us over.

[00:24:58] And secondly, it kind of, I don't know, stereotypes us. Right. That's why people are like, oh, ask Yvonne, asked Ethel to be on this committee because they're really good at it. Right. A service committee.

[00:25:10] Yvonne Su: Ask them to be note takers.

[00:25:12] Ethel Tungohan: Ask them to be no takers because they're good at it. Right? Yeah. And you're thinking, wow, I'm actually being put in a box here and it's very restrictive.

[00:25:19] And I wonder if you have thoughts on how to break free from that and how academia does kind of essentialize us into these model minority roles, us being, um, well Asian women, but also immigrant women, racialized women.

[00:25:34] Yvonne Su: Auntie Ethel what you said was just so relatable, especially the very beginning with the whole... we worked so hard. And as women of color in academia, as young women of color, we know how much more we had to do, how much more publications we had to pump out. You wrote a book. Gosh, how many people write a book at your career level, nobody. Right. But you've probably felt the need to write a book, even though your white colleagues maybe had not even one journal and publication. Right? I had 10, I think when I applied for my job at York, that's how much extra work I felt like I needed to do. But it's so relatable because you know, we're professors and we got that merit. We got that job, but I don't know if it feels like this image wise to you, but I feel like I'm climbing this tall ladder, there's this light at the end. And I, and I I'm going to get there. And I think getting there as being a professor. And the second I grab it, it all falls down and another set of ladders show up. That's how I've been feeling about this whole process, because when we're in our PhD, the goal is always to get the professor job. Work so hard, sacrifice everything.

[00:26:41] We get the job. We overcome all these barriers and then a completely new set of barriers show up. And it just feels so insufferable. It feels like I can't see the end of that light. Or that ladder. You don't want think you're a couple of years ahead of me. I don't know if you see the light either. It just feels like we're just going to keep climbing and climbing.

[00:27:00] Ethel Tungohan: And I think what's awful is that you realize the entire edifice is flawed, right? And that there are people shaking the ladder. So you can't ascend, but also that structurally, um, this institution actually functions to our detriment. To our collective detriment. Right. And I think I shared this on Twitter and I think you had responded as well where, um, I was recently, um, told, uh, cause I was in the running for this research position, this research, this thing. Uh, oh, that she has too many publications that you have too many publications. And for me, I was like, wait, why is that a bad thing?

[00:27:38] And then I realized, oh, it's because as Asian women we're being stereotyped as being robotic, right. As not having, you know, not having the intentionality behind the projects that we produce, that we're just kind of churning it out.

[00:27:53] Like, I don't know, robotic little Asians. Right. And it's like, wow, that's within the rules change. Right? You're like you changed the rules. That was always the gold standard. But then you're changing the rules at the last minute to benefit others who don't have as much to make them look better.

[00:28:07] Yvonne Su: That's so messed up and it's so messed up that we can't just lift each other up.

[00:28:11] We can't just encourage each other. Right. If one colleague irrespective of their background or the color of their skin is doing well, you can't just say bravo. And I think that's, what's really hard to face is having your colleagues almost be intimidated by you. To see your accomplishments, not as a success for the department or for the university, but as a threat.

[00:28:34] And I find that such a narrow way to look at it. It's a very, the whole zero sum game type of approach. Whereas we're, you know, we see things as win-win. We were very collaborative individuals. And that's why, you know, we've gotten to where we are because we see other people as equal. We want to work together and produce better work as a result.

[00:28:54] We're not spending time tearing each other down, shaking the ladder, try to kick it away. Right. And that won't serve us anyways. Imagine if we did any of that as women of color. Oh we would be demonized, you would be villainized. We'd get canceled.

[00:29:10] Ethel Tungohan: Honestly, this is why Mei's story is so, is so empowering too, right?

[00:29:15] Like rather than shutting up rather than being, you know, quiet, like, you know, Let let herself shine. Right? Like, don't you feel sometimes when you go into these spaces that you have to kind of, you know, diminish yourself, diminish your shine.

[00:29:29] Yvonne Su: You have to poof out.

[00:29:30] Ethel Tungohan: Yeah. Yeah. But sometimes I don't want to poof out cause I'm afraid. Right. I'm afraid of the backlash. And so I know the story makes me think you know, Mei. So, I mean, and maybe intergenerationally, it's easier to, maybe that is the story the movie's telling where, you know, she can poof out. She can be both, you can be allowed, you can be accepted it's okay. Right. And I kind of, I think it does end on that hopeful note.

[00:29:53] Yvonne Su: But maybe that is the strategy. You ask for strategies to deal with the, you know, that type of pressure that people, or that type of, um, the stereotypes you will put on us to be the model minority in academia. And I think that's the , a coping mechanism is to know that we have, uh, inner red panda, right. That's more powerful. That's big. And that's perhaps more true and that we could let the red panda out and poof out and take up more space, especially in situations where we have the expertise. I'm sure you've been in many meetings where you are the expert on this topic. If someone is undermining you all the time and you just got to proof and be like, yeah, I've got a book on this. I've got X, many, you know, grants on this and you just got to drop it. Right. And, and set those boundaries and legitimize yourself. And then there are other times where we have to keep it in and then we have to play the game. Right. But maybe that's the lesson is that we need to learn to control those two sides for ourselves so that we're not just conforming all the time and being quiet.

[00:31:00] Ethel Tungohan: I did like what you said there about, of unleashing our inner red panda. I think that's such a beautiful metaphor. Um, I did, you know, in the few minutes that we have left also want to talk about sexuality.

[00:31:14] Yvonne Su: Yeah. Love it.

[00:31:17] Ethel Tungohan: What did you, I mean, you were a 13 year old girl once. I was a 13 year old girl once. I, in fact, I oftentimes think I'm still a 13 year old girl.

[00:31:27] What do you think of this portrayal of, of Mei and crushes and kind of hormones?

[00:31:34] Yvonne Su: Yes, I loved it. And I, the only critique I had though, was that, you know, a lot of immigrant girls don't experience that type, well, they experience the hormones obviously at their teens, but they don't experience that type of empowerment until later.

[00:31:50] Right. Or like this, like really realizing it. Does that make sense? Like, is, it seems like she's going through this journey and she's kind of realizing what's happening and all that. Right. And like the controlling of the emotions, like I thought it was a little ambitious that, that as a 13 year old she had that much insight and control her emotions like that.

[00:32:11] I felt I probably did that at eighteen. But still, the idea is still there. It's still relatable. The drawings, like feeling so embarrassed at school for certain things, like having those desires, loving boy bands. I loved the music. They did a great job with the music. I thought was excellent.

[00:32:32] Ethel Tungohan: They definitely captured 2002, well, early two thousands era, like NSync.

[00:32:38] I think the Backstreet Boys were a little bit before that. Right. And so, I mean, I absolutely loved it. I actually like have been listening to the soundtrack because I'm like, oh my gosh, look, it's my new jam. Right. Cause you know, that's I was, yeah. We were young in 2002 or younger in 2002. So I thought that was super accurate.

[00:32:58] Yvonne Su: And going back to sexuality, I really liked that like, because of how she grew up, she felt so bad. I think the guilt is so relatable, right?

[00:33:08] Ethel Tungohan: Oh, one hundred percent.

[00:33:10] Yvonne Su: It's okay. Right. You like boys go for it. It's fine. But like this idea that she was bringing shame to the family, that her grades were going to go down, you know, like it was so relatable because that's all tied up in there.

[00:33:24] Ethel Tungohan: That's a hundred percent so relatable. So I remember, oh my gosh, like, you know, I was 13 and I was writing these, like, pretend letters, like pretend love letters that my crush wrote to me, even though it wasn't really, it wasn't my crush. My crush probably wouldn't be able to have that kind of developed language because I was taking it from like romance novels.

[00:33:47] Right. So I wrote that pretending it was my crush, writing it to me. And of course my mom like sees this. And like calls me in and was like, what is this? And then, you know, I was like, how dare you? You did not. And she was like, no, what is this? And I was like, no, it just, I wrote it. I wrote it to myself and then it was okay, but she was kind side eying me. but I was so embarrassed.

[00:34:11] Yvonne Su: I love that you have such a similar story and I'm sure so many people have similar stories. I never wrote letters, but I definitely scribbled their names. And I like use like, you know, colored pencils and lights, you know, drew hearts and flames, all that jazz. Right.

[00:34:28] Everybody did that. So relatable.

[00:34:31] Ethel Tungohan: And I think that's one thing that I wanted to kind of highlight as well. Cause there were a lot of detractors being like, yeah, 13 year old girls aren't like that. And I'm like, are you kidding me? Yes, they are. They are.

[00:34:47] Yvonne Su: Well, and I love the focus on girls. Right. And that's what's a big difference about this film.

[00:34:51] Like her crew was all girls, right. It was like giving a space to share a story that we don't really hear because we always hear about boys going through puberty. Gosh, there's so many films, right? Where the coming of age focuses that right. And here we are with a girl and it's, I'm not surprised some people are so shocked, right?

[00:35:11] That's just more commentary on what is available in the media that we have currently. We know it's not a shock.

[00:35:18] Ethel Tungohan: It's not a shock. And I think, and I like to kind of end on this note and ask you another question as well, love the friendships. I was like, oh my god, that girl group, I loved it. I'm like, you know, that, that I think made the movie for me because they capture the dynamics really well.

[00:35:35] I remember my friends and I were all part of this New Kids on the Block fan club. And we each had our boy, right. Joey McIntyre forever. I think, you know, this movie is also an example of dissident friendships. Her friends were there to back her up. They were there to support her. And I guess Auntie Yvonne, and I'll end on this note what role have these dissident friendships and community care functioned for you in your journey in the academy?

[00:36:06] Yvonne Su: Oh, I mean, in the academy I think friendships arguably are the most important, right? I mean, it's such a lonely journey, especially the PhD. It's such a lonely journey. For me, where I went it was such a white space, that it was really important to be, to reach out to people like yourself, like, and, and friends that you have introduced me to that are having similar kind of lonely experiences in their institutions.

[00:36:34] And to know that we have each other's backs. That we're going to help each other. Right. Cause you said the system is not really designed for us, so we're all pushing a boulder up a hill. But to know that we can push it together, it makes a huge difference.

[00:36:49] Ethel Tungohan: Honestly, it's the community that matters. And I think academia, so isolating. It's so lonely.

[00:36:54] And knowing that, um, you also, auntie Yvonne had like a community to back you up. I think that's the essential message here. Much like in the movie Meilin had like her friends to back her up and it's always important to kind of, you know, debunk this notion that academia is all about competition.

[00:37:13] No, I mean, if you shine, I shine too, right?

[00:37:16] Yvonne Su: Yes. Let's shine together.

[00:37:19] Ethel Tungohan: Woo. That is a great note to end on. Um, auntie Yvonne, do you have social media? If our listeners want to follow.

[00:37:28] Yvonne Su: Yes, my Twitter is Su Yvonne, S U Y V O N N E.

[00:37:33] Ethel Tungohan: Awesome. Well thank you so much.

[00:37:36] Yvonne Su: Yes, I'll see you soon hopefully.

[00:37:41] Ethel Tungohan: I love this conversation with auntie Yvonne because it reminds me that the presence of fictional characters like Meilin and the presence of women of color and racialized folks in academic spaces isn't only important because these show more representation. These are important because of the stories that can now be told the experiences that can now be shared in the norms that can now shift by the people who lived these realities. Turning Red also shows the power of dissident friendships. Of having a circle of people who are there for you like Meilin and her friends and aunties.

[00:38:11] Through these communities, transformative changes can take place. And so perhaps we should all be a bit more like Meilin and let our inner red pandas out.

[00:38:22] And that's Academic Aunties. You know, just over a year ago, we released our very first episode. We didn't really know what kind of response we would get to this podcast. But in the last 12 months, I've really enjoyed chatting with fellow academic aunties and hearing from you about how their stories made this fraught space a little bit better. We're so, so grateful to all of you for listening.

[00:38:44] Remember, you can always get in touch with us on Twitter at, @AcademicAuntie, and you can find out lots of ways to support us and even get some Academic Aunties swag at academicaunties.com.

[00:38:56] Today's episode of Academic Aunties was hosted by me, Dr. Ethel Tungohan and produced by myself, Wayne Chu and Dr. Nisha Nash. Tune in next time, when we talk to more academic aunties.

[00:39:07] Until then take care, be kind to yourself and don't be an asshole.