NOC Presents: A SEA Conversation about ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’

With Raya and the Last Dragon out for about a week now, there are many thoughts and opinions being shared across the Internet about it. While a few of us here at The Nerds of Color have written extensively about Disney’s first Southeast Asian film, I thought it would be appropriate to gather together the Southeast Asian Nerds of Color writers and discuss it. Together with Laura Sirikul, Mike Manalo, and Patrick Michael Strange, in a conversation about as long as Raya and the Last Dragon itself, we go in-depth on everything from the film’s plot, how it tackled the topic of trust, the characters, the majority East Asian cast, the lack of Filipino culture and actors, and more.

WARNING: The following contains major spoilers from Raya and the Last Dragon.

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Getting Real with Raya: An Interview with Kelly Marie Tran

Today, I’m beyond thrilled that I get to say that we finally have a Southeast Asian Disney Princess! That’s right! Raya and the Last Dragon is officially hitting cinemas and Disney+ via Premier Access today, and we couldn’t be happier. In fact, if you want to take a look at what we thought of the film, check out our review here.

Having said that, here at The Nerds of Color, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing may talented and wonderful actors of color; each one doing their part to further the cause of shining a light on the underrepresented. However, to me, this 10 minute interview may top them all!

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Disney’s ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ Comes at a Poignant Time for Asian Americans

There’s no question the global pandemic has affected the lives of many within the United States having the highest COVID-19 cases and death rate. The previous administration under President Donald Trump blamed China for the deadly coronavirus, labeling the disease as the “China Virus” and, more broadly, putting targets on the backs of Asian Americans by fellow citizens who are angry by the economic and social impact of the pandemic. Since then, there has been a rise in Anti-Asian hate crimes throughout the U.S. After multiple attacks on the elderly Asian population, the media started to notice, thanks to the help of Asian American advocates and allies pushing for these stories to be shared. Multiple brands, including Disney, Nike, and Apple, began releasing statements condemning the attacks on Asians and where people can donate and show support.

It seems like the perfect time to release Raya and the Last Dragon, a Disney film inspired by Southeast Asian cultures and traditions. Raya and the Last Dragon is set in the fantasy world of Kumandra where humans and dragons lived together in harmony. That sadly ends when the Druun, an evil entity, threatens the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, the Druun have returned and Raya (Kelly Marie Tran), the lone warrior princess, must find the last dragon, Sisu (Awkwafina), to stop the Druun and save the world. The film’s theme is centered around trust and how Raya must learn to trust in order to achieve saving the world.

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NOC Review: ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ is Relevant, Rollicking, and Remarkable

In 1937, Walt Disney debuted something that changed the history of cinema — the release of the first full length animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This in turn gave birth to Walt Disney Animation Studios and a long history (at times problematic) of classic stories and adventures involving dragons and princesses that has, for the most part, arguably withstood the test of time from generation to generation. But generations change. Art and time change the world and, in turn, the world and time must also change art. Our expectations on the types of stories we can tell, and the cultural sources of those stories must evolve and expand, because life has become more complicated since 1937. And thus today (or rather this Friday), the world will see how far we’ve come since Snow White, when Disney introduces the world to it’s newest game-changer Raya and the Last Dragon. Now you’re probably thinking, “C’mon. Is it really a game-changer? How? Why?” And if you are thinking that, first off, that’s just rude (just kidding). And second, if you’ve been reading my reviews long enough I’m sure you’re used to my dramatic flair for hyperbole. However, to answer your question, yes. I believe it is.

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NOC Review: ‘They Call Me Babu’ Visualizes an Untold Story

The archival documentary filmmaking style is able to take us to times long past that can’t necessarily be recreated with the same sensitivity and grace through mere recreation — as opposed to just seeing footage of the actual subject matter in question. Unlike casting an actor to portray someone else’s experience or reinterpreting events through animation, using archival footage helps to see the real faces that once lived in spaces that no longer exist, to actual haunting, horrifying scenes of war in places where peace now exists. This synthesizes both the preservation of both art and history, because beyond just pinning names to a person on a list, archival footage can help better visualize untold stories and those who lived through them. 

They Call Me Babu is an documentary that composites archival footage to tell the story of Alima, a nanny who worked for a Dutch family in the former Dutch East Indies — Indonesia — during the 1940s. It originally premiered at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) to audiences within the Netherlands. It was also slated to debut and tour in other regions in 2020, if not for the disruption of many events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Osnat Shurer, Adele Lim, and Fawn Veerasunthorn on Keeping ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ Authentic

Raya and the Last Dragon is being celebrated for being the first Southeast Asian-inspired story produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios. Set in the fantasy world of Kumandra, where long ago humans and dragons coexisted in harmony. After an evil force called the Druuns threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity with the creation of the Dragon Gem. Raya’s family are the Guardians of the Dragon Gem and must protect the gem at all costs. When conflict arises within the clans, the same evil returns and causes a path for destruction. It is up to Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) to track down the legendary last dragon Sisu (Awkwafina) to restore the fractured land and defeat the evil surrounding it.

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Disney’s ‘Raya and The Last Dragon’ Announces the Rest of the Cast

During a special presentation with select press last Tuesday, the creative team behind Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon revealed the rest of the ensemble that joins Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina in the first Southeast Asian-inspired fantasy animation set to release this March. Set in the fantasy world of Kumandra, humans and dragons coexisted in harmony. But when an evil force called the Druun threaten their world, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, the Druun have returned and it is up to Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) to track down the last dragon, Sisu (Awkwafina), and find the missing pieces to the Dragon Gem to rid their land of evil and unite its divided people.

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The Significance of Iko Uwais in ‘Wu Assassins’

For two weeks already, the fantasy-crime-martial arts series, Wu Assassins, has been streaming on Netflix. Centered in modern day San Francisco Chinatown, it follows a chef who finds out he is the last Wu Assassin; the one whose destined to stop the five Wu Warlords from obtaining the powers of Wu Xing and using them to destroy the world.

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