A review of Raya and the Last Dragon: the first SouthEast Asian princess


Vittoria Ginevri

The movie Raya and the Last Dragon which released March 3 2021,  sparked mixed reactions within the audience regarding its Asian representation. Although many claim to be overjoyed at the first South-East Asian representation in a Disney movie, many have found criticisms in some of the features of the movie.

One of the largest controversies to have been raised by people is that of the voice actors cast, who have been found to be predominantly East Asians rather than South-eastern. The cast features actors such as Awkwafina, Sandra Oh and Gemma Chan- it was pointed out that Tran is one of the few Southeastern voice actors in the entire movie. On Twitter, a user says that, “I am actually very conflicted about the new Raya and the Last Dragon casting. I love all those cast members. But basically everyone, except KMT is East Asian. Imagine how big it would be if  they actually casted Southeast Asian actors. SE Asian actors are sorely lacking in Hollywood.”

An NPR director reached out to one of the co-writers of the movie, Adele Lim, who spoke about this issue, saying that: “Any time that there is a prominent Asian-forward movie or we have Asian leads, you know, that one project has to kind of take on the burden because there’s just not enough of them.” She mentions that they are all grateful and feel immensely lucky for the actors that were available and participated in the project.

Despite this, the problem still remains, and the bottom line is that since Disney promoted the movie so heavily as being the “First Southeast Asian inspired Disney movie”, they turned it into a lost opportunity by not following through completely with it.

This caused controversy since it seems as if Disney is treating Asians as if they were the same no matter what part of Asia they are from. Many pointed out that the culture from one South-eastern Asian country is vastly different than one in Eastern Asia. This is a much larger problem with Asian actors as it is with white ones because of the stereotypes that have been placed among people of this race, and the fact that they have been, on numerous occasions, placed into the same ‘group’ even when their cultures are so different.

It was mentioned as well by a speaker on NPR, Hoai-Tran Bui, that South-eastern Asians are sometimes viewed as “lesser than East Asians” because the colour of their skin is usually darker. Therefore, they do not have the same type of visibility that East Asians have in movies, which is the reason as to why many were disappointed at the casting.

Despite all of this, the movie received a lot of positive comments praising its inclusion of elements of different cultures such as Vietnamese, Thai, Malaysia  and Laos culture. Raya can also be seen wearing a hat that resembles a headwear worn in the Philippines, the Salakot.

Producer Osnat Shurer said they tried “to look at what are the underlying ideas that are shared… the most important one for us was this sense of community and working together.”