‘Turning Red’ isn’t the first Disney/Pixar film to tackle the rules – The Hollywood Reporter

When Pixar turn red debuted on Disney+ in March, much of the long-awaited answer to the coming-of-age tale from the year 2000 about Mei, a Chinese-Canadian teenager who transforms into a red panda while she’s starting to go through puberty, was the celebration.

But in the weeks since the film’s release, the conversation around it has shifted sharply away from advocating a step forward in inclusive storytelling – the film marked the first studio to be directed solely by a Chinese-Canadian woman and introduced her first main Asian character – and turned into a heated debate. The controversy would ultimately revolve around whether an animated film aimed at children should be allowed, even metaphorically, to allude to menstruation.

In a interview with Polygondirector and co-writer Domee Shi explained that the red panda metaphor speaks not only at pubertybut also “what we inherit from our mothers, and how we deal with the things we inherit from them”.

“Everyone on the team has been very supportive of these real conversations about periods and these moments in girls’ lives,” producer Lindsey Collins said.

The move didn’t sit well with some parents, who have descended on review centers like Common Sense Media (which focuses on the suitability of media for children) to blame the The Pixar movie had crossed a line for younger viewers with its “multiple mentions of rules and buffers”, as one reviewer noted.

“It was extremely disappointing! We’re all set to watch it with friends on a snowy day and it’s totally inappropriate for kids under 13,” wrote another adult reviewer, who called the film “too much sex.” “Puberty, boy mad, lying to parents, sneaking around, and other unhealthy ways of dealing with emotions.”

(Puberty can begin as early as age eight, depending on the cleveland clinicwith menstruation beginning around 12 p.m.)

Mei Lee (voice: Rosalie Chiang).
Walt Disney Studio Motion Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

For Brace face creator Melissa Clarke, the backlash seemed all too familiar. Her animated series, which aired on the Disney-owned ABC Family network for three seasons, tackled menstruation in 2001 during the show’s first season in “The Worst First Date Ever: Period.”

“I got a lot of letters from angry moms,” the writer and series creator recalls. “One said, ‘My 13-year-old daughter and I thought we were sitting down to watch a fun cartoon, then I had to explain to her what the rules were. We were like, ‘Oh, so that’s a thank you letter, that’s what you say.’

Written by showrunner Alyse Rosenberg and “hosted” by studio Nelvana, the story saw its lead character, “braceface” Sharon, on her first date with a crush when she gets her first period. Ultimately, the episode attempts to provide some insight into how tweens can react — from anxiety to pride — to puberty-related experiences.

“It kind of captured the taboo subjects, which is life,” Clarke said of her series as a whole. “I really wanted Brace face to be the TV version of a Judy Blume book, to be a landing space for the kind of kid that I was who needed the storytelling.

Lauren Rosewarne, author of Periods in Pop Culture: Menstruation in Movies and TVargues that the negative reaction to these plots is an ongoing issue fueled by the perception of menstruation as an “adult” subject.

“There is a tendency among some people – usually conservative people often with strong religious beliefs – to think that all sex education should be provided at home rather than through third parties like schools or the media,” he said. Rosewarne. THR. “Menstruation is lumped in with other perceived ‘adult’ topics – such as intercourse or masturbation – seen as sensitive, private, and often uncomfortable or embarrassing to discuss.”

One result of this stance has been historically negative portrayals of periods, associating them with “embarrassment, bad temper and sometimes even crime”, she said. Additionally, action and animated films and television have portrayed the existence of menstruation as something to be used strategically – a convenient excuse to get out of gym class or indulge in binge eating.

But not all shows have taken these kinds of approaches, including the sitcom Roseanewho treated Darlene’s first period as “something positive” that allowed her to be a parent, Rosewarne said THR. The representative treatment of time periods in TV and film can also depend on genre, with comedies leaning into hints while media aimed at teens are more likely to focus on education, anticipation and even activism. .

“I think animation aimed at younger audiences would be more likely to avoid including it unless it was consciously intended to function as sex education,” Rosewarne said.

This was the case for a 1946 Disney short film, The history of menstruation, which was produced in partnership with International Cellucotton Products Company, the marketing arm of Kimberly-Clark, makers of Kotex products. One of the first branded films used in schools and eventually shown to 100 million students, the Walt Disney Company oversaw early script drafts and conceptualization of visual material, with producers bringing in a consultant gynecologist to ensure scientific accuracy.

The emphasis “on biological themes” in the script, guided by KC, helped make its tone objective and unemotional, according to Kotex, Kleenex, Huggies: Kimberly-Clark and the Consumer Revolution in American Business. Alongside the short, the ICPC published an additional teaching guide, which suggested educators approach menstruation informally in fourth grade before a more “systematic” focus in seventh.

This more streamlined approach, shaped in part by a screen test that resulted in major changes, was by design Bob Batchelor, Kotex, Kleenex, Huggies co-author, says THR. “There were many cultural factors that KC and Disney had to consider when creating The history of menstruation, like how to show the sexual organs and represent the blood,” he explained. “They had to be tactful and sensitive, especially if they wanted to win wide approval. Then as now, much of the nation was openly conservative in its view of sexuality and sex education, so the film had to work around potential obstacles.

Rosewarne notes that the American television and film industry historically operated under production codes that made it difficult to show menstruation. The predominance of men in media production, as well as network and classification issues, also influenced the portrayal of the period. “Generally, producers want their material to be seen by as many people as possible, so they’ll often avoid including content that will limit who can see it,” she said.

Released decades apart, The history of menstruation, which turns red and Brace face were ultimately grappling with the same threat of backlash. But unlike its more modern counterparts, the short and its extra material on menstruation has been accepted as age-appropriate for under-13s. says Batchelor. One student even described it as something that could be enjoyed “instead of feeling silent”.

“Schools had a more direct role in preparing young people for life, rather than focusing on college, so health and sex education were extremely important,” Batchelor said of sex education being then more central in the education system, compared to the current- day.

Despite this mixed reception around the period animation, Rosewarne says the stigma around on-screen periods has “absolutely lessened over time,” thanks to the internet, social media, cable TV, and now. , to streaming services. “They’re just not beholden to the taste or rating issues that have plagued film and television,” she concluded.

For Clarke, change is important as a creative who wants to help those looking for answers.

“Looking back when I was a kid, I was so full of shame and everything felt weird and weird. I guess it’s because my parents weren’t comfortable with it. I so really felt shame, and I feel like it was totally unnecessary,” Clarke said. “Why is it so loaded for some people when it’s just part of life?

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