Disney’s First Southeast Asian Princess: Raya!

April 16, 2021

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“Raya and the Last Dragon” allows children to “have examples of a hero who takes a very brave step in trying to make the world a better place, by building a bridge instead of a wall.” – Qui Nguyen

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From legends and dwarves to heroes and long mystical adventures, Disney has created movies and shows that play a big part in making both adults and children feel magical. A well-known and expansive series of tales that many remember is the collection of Disney princesses. Their stories, songs, companions, and journeys made people from all around the world feel represented in their own special way.

As of March 5, 2021, a new Disney princess (and warrior) has been introduced, and her name is Raya.

Raya is a young woman who lives in a world called Kumandra. This is a fantasy land in which humans and dragons once lived in harmony. It all changed when monsters called the Druun threatened this world and almost all of the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Years later, all but one dragon is gone, and it’s Raya’s job to go find that dragon and defend the world from the Druun again.

With the current state of society, a fantastical adventure is what people of all ages need.
“Raya and the Last Dragon” touches upon current struggles such as loss, bias, trust and unity, while keeping the show fun and lighthearted.

What makes this movie special is that Raya is the first princess from Southeast Asian descent and her character design as well as the world around her is based off of countries that include but are not limited to: Laos, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines. Apart from bringing smiles to many faces, this movie also plays an integral role in providing representation for Southeast Asians all around the world.

Within the plot, the visual design, and the overall setting of the movie, many aspects of different Southeast Asian countries are given time to shine. Some examples of these details and incorporation are:

  •              An offering given to Sisu the Dragon: a Vietnamese rice cake called bánh tét
  •              Raya referring to her dad as “Ba”, the Vietnamese word for father
  •              A weapon that is inspired by the Indonesian Kris
  •              Martial Arts styles such as Indonesian Pencak Silat, Muay Thai, and Vietnamese Võ thuật

 

The creation of this movie is all thanks to the playwright and screenwriter of “Raya and the Last Dragon”, Qui Nguyen, who wanted his kids to feel represented in the media. He stated: “They don’t have to trade skins to see themselves as Raya, as Naamari, as Tong, as Boun.” As someone whose parents are from Vietnam, Qui Nguyen aspires to empower Southeast Asian children, teens, and adults alike. This movie is available now on Disney + and is sure to allow many more generations of children to feel personally involved in the Disney universe.

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References

           “Raya and the Last Dragon.” Disney Movies, 5 Mar. 2021, movies.disney.com/raya-and-the-last-dragon/.

             Tran, Diep. “How ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ Built a Southeast Asian Fantasy World.” NBCNews.com,     NBCUniversal News Group, 3 Mar. 2021, www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/how-raya-last-dragon-built-southeast-asian-fantasy-world-n1259465.

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