Danielle Broadway is an English Literature MA student at California…
Today marks the long awaited and highly anticipated release of Disney’s Raya and The Last Dragon in both theaters and on Disney+ for those with Premier Access.
Audiences will get to enjoy the multitalented Kelly Marie Tran as Raya and the lovable and hilarious Awkwafina as Sisu, for a magical story of redemption and trust.
Before diving into the movie, it’s important to get some of the central takeaways from the recent press conference that included the entire cast, writers, producers, and directorial team.
The Zoom press conference included Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan (Namaari), Daniel Dae Kim (Chief Benja), Sandra Oh (Virana), Benedict Wong (Tong), Izaac Wang (Boun), Thalia Tran (Little Noi), Don Hall (Director), Carlos Lopez Estrada (Director), Osnat Shurer (Producer), Qui Nguyen (Writer), Adele Lim (Writer) and Jeannie Mai from The Real as the moderator.
We’ve compiled the top noteworthy moments that will definitely have you feeling extra hyper for the film. Plus, there are moments of Southeast Asian representation and an overall Asian pride that you will not want to miss.
Benedict Wong’s Tong Costume
As if there weren’t already enough to smile about, Benedict Wong came dressed to impress in his amazing Tong costume.
Mai teased that he arrived “underdressed” and Wong replied that he “went casual” and had his sweatpants on. He even mentioned with a laugh that he had a horse in the next room that he could bring in.
Oh smiled and said, “Benedict, you put us all to shame.”
He pretty much stole the entire press conference upon arrival. Even Kim had to get in on this moment, saying, “Benedict, I’m not only impressed with your wardrobe, but I love the fact that your bathroom tile is actually Raya-themed colors.”
Wong had everyone start the conference with a laugh as he declared, “I’m willing to go the extra mile.”
If you didn’t already know how amazing Wong is, you know now.
The Entire Film Was Made by People Working in 400 Homes
When watching the film, it may look like most animated films from the surface, but the reality is that Raya was crafted by hundreds of people who were never in the same studio together due to the pandemic.
Kim explained, “It was amazing being able to record from home because living in Hawaii, anytime I try to travel to go shoot something, it’s at least five hours and sometimes eleven by plane.” For him, being able to walk downstairs in his T-shirt and shorts was great. However, he also explained, “It wasn’t without hiccups.”
When recording a large chunk of dialogue one day for about an hour from home, Kim realized that none of his audio had actually successfully recorded during that hour. He joked about how that’s what happens when the recording is left to the actors but noted that thankfully, it didn’t happen again.
Mai asked everyone how they were able to form camaraderie without being in the same studio, and Tran provided some insight. “Honestly, all the credit has to go to the story team and the editing, and the entire team working behind the movie,” she explained. “All of the actors, at least in my case, were all kind of isolated, and we were recording by ourselves. To see the movie now, totally finished, and see all of the amazing chemistry that all of these incredible characters have, I think that says a lot about the expertise of Disney animation and the incredible team working behind this movie, and also the cast, obviously.”
We couldn’t agree more with Tran, as there’s nothing in the film that would suggest that it was made in such a nontraditional way, proving that when there’s a challenge, Disney knows how to rise to the occasion.
Awkwafina on The Visually Stunning Animation
Awkwafina shared with audiences, “I’m gonna be honest. I first saw the clip that was put together during D23 and I was a little confused. I was like, is this a live-action movie? Let me get my agent on the phone—because it looked so realistic: the rain, everything! So, that was confusing, but then also, you realize we’re coming in sometimes without pants, you know, that’s optional. We come in and we do the job, one Croc on, and that’s what we’re doing. But then you realize all that really goes into this and we’re recording simultaneously as it’s being animated.”
When she first saw Sisu, she said, “That’s me.”
The Films Representation of Southeast Asian Culture and Themes of Redemption
The diverse and colorful land of Kumandra is strongly inspired by Southeast Asian culture. From the food to the hairstyles, the film is like a love letter to Southeast Asian pride. With traits like respecting elders and community building, the film spoke something true to everyone involved in the production.
Mai asked everyone what they wanted audiences to takeaway from their roles, especially when it came to reflecting Southeast Asian culture.
Chan replied, “One of the things that really drew me to this story and resonated with me is the fact that Namaari is the antagonist but she’s not a cut-out villain. It’s not black-and-white. I find that very interesting. She and Raya are also kind of two sides of the same coin. You could imagine them having each other’s upbringing and easily taking each other’s place.”
Chan continued, “Our world is complex and the problems of the world are only going to begin to be solved when we work together, and the lack of trust and division is a huge problem. But you can understand why the people of Fang are trying to protect themselves. You can understand why we have elements in this society that want to protect their own self-interest. I think these are very complex themes to explore in a family film and applaud the storytellers for tackling this. It couldn’t come at a more timely moment for where we are and the position we’re in within the world right now.”
Mai brought up the striking similarities between the film’s importance of trust and resisting division to the violent attacks that the Asian community has been experiencing during the pandemic.
The timing of the film lines up with several vital current events that many of the cast members, including Daniel Dae Kim, have publicly spoken on. The press conference drew a very important connection to accurate representation and combating racism.
Kim explained, “I think that we can’t undervalue the power of the fact that this is a Disney movie and the people in large part will be watching this with their families. Parents will be with their children seeing this kind of representation and understanding what is possible.”
He continued, saying, “I’m also thinking of all the children who will be seeing Raya for the first time and seeing an Asian female who kicks ass and becomes a queen. She’s on the path to becoming a ruler, and she’s being groomed by her father to that in a loving relationship. All of these things are such a positive portrayal. It’s exposure that brings understanding and that understanding is what changes perception. What this movie does on the scale of those things can’t be underestimated.”
We hoped that helped you get ready for Raya and the Last Dragon, whether you’re seeing it in theaters or at home with Disney+. It premieres today, March 5, so grab your family and get ready to head over to Kumandra.
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Danielle Broadway is an English Literature MA student at California State University, Long Beach. She has been published in Black Girl Nerds, LA Weekly and Medium, is a writer for CSULB’s the Daily49er, is a managing editor for Watermark, her school’s academic literary journal and is an assistant editor at Angels Flight • literary west. She’s an activist and educator that is inspired by her family to make social change both in the classroom and beyond.