Critics Bugged: Raya and the Last Dragon’s Lack of Southeast Asian Cast

Raya and the Last Dragon is a recently released movie by Disney about a girl, Raya, who has found the last living dragon. Together they must help each other defeat the Druun, evil creatures that steal life and turn people into stone. This movie is about a girl who lost her father and must defeat an evil force in order to bring him and other families’ loved ones back to life. However, what is concealed to the average person watching the movie is the lack of Southeast Asian actors who understand and personify the culture of Southeast Asia and represent what Southeast Asia is. The problem is that Southeast Asian actors represent a small minority of the cast when they should be more prominent in the movie.

Disney said that the fictional “Kumandra” is inspired by the cultures of Southeast Asian countries, including Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Singapore, and Indonesia. However, Kelly Marie Tran, who plays Raya, is the only Southeast Asian actor in a prominent speaking role. The rest of the actors who contain prominent speaking roles are mainly East Asian which almost negates the effect of the movie being based in Southeast Asia. Another reason why people are getting a little bit bugged with the reviews of this movie is that a lot of critics enjoyed the representation of the Southeast Asian community when in fact there was only a small percentage of Southeast Asian actors. Hoai-Tran Bui, who was displayed in NPR’s morning talk show, said this towards the critics, “Most of the reaction I saw online was praise and general positivity from Southeast Asian critics, although a few have voiced the same criticisms I have towards the film’s melting-pot approach, and even more are unhappy with the casting choices. It mostly goes into the issue of treating Asians as a monolith, no matter which country they come from. And there is a distinction between East Asian countries and Southeast Asian countries.” It is time to stop associating Asians of different ethnicities as a whole and recognize the branches of different Asian cultures.

However, let’s take a step back and look at the positives of this movie. From my experience, it was not a horrible movie, and it was an enjoyable experience. I recommend watching it if you plan to view it with friends or family. Also, this movie was a major step forward for the movie production industry since this was one of the first movies with a purely Asian cast. Overall, if you look past the lack of Southeast Asian representation and just enjoy the movie, you will have a pleasant experience and view a movie filled with action, fantasy, and suspense.