Meet Domee Shi, The Oscar-Winning Director Behind Pixar’s Turning Red!

“Domee Shi: I remember not being the only Asian in my class or friend group. I was around people from all, and that was just such a cool detail about Toronto that I wanted to share with the world.”

Check out our chat with #TurningRed director Domee Shi!

Keshav Kant: So, we got a little info packet when the email of the interview came in! As I was going through it, I saw that you’re a pretty big manga/animation fan. So I wanted to ask what are your favourite mangas that you grew up with or you’re reading currently. And were there any ones that inspired turning Red?


Domee Shi: Oh yeah, for sure. The manga and anime that inspired Turning Red and my favourite manga growing up were definitely Sailor Moon, Inuyasha. Fruits basket was a big manga that I was obsessed with. Yeah, and when you watch the movie, you’re like, oh, that’s where she got it from. Beautiful boys, magical transformation back and forth between animals and humans.

Director Domee Shi attends the red carpet of Pixar's Turning Red at The Space Cinema Moderno in Rome, February 25th, 2022
Mondadori Portfolio | Getty Images
Director Domee Shi attends the red carpet of Pixar’s Turning Red at The Space Cinema Moderno in Rome, February 25th, 2022
Mondadori Portfolio | Getty Images

Yeah, I always loved how manga and anime just had so many stories, not just featuring super roided up people. But that they were about girls or kids going to high school and middle school and liked dealing with drama. But also, it’ll take a deep dive into like interesting spaces. I had never known there were manga about literally everything like volleyball, basketball, professional, cycling and swimming.
And yeah, and then I just became obsessed with it growing up. I haven’t been reading any Monga recently. But actually, the last one I read was by this horror manga artist named Junji Ito; I’ve been really into his stuff cause it’s super freaky and beautiful and surreal.

Keshav Kant: Yeah, like I have a glass painting of Yuri on Ice in the background, And then I just convinced a friend of mine to read the Tokyo Ghoul manga, so I can definitely see that. And I can see the influence of Fruits Basket. Especially when we’re discussing generational trauma and how our relationship with our parents impacts us. So that’s wonderful to see.

Switching gears. Cause the movie does focus a lot on Toronto. It was wonderful to see so much of Toronto just beyond the Air Canada Centre and the CN tower. Were there specific memories or aspects of Toronto that you wanted to bring into the film while working on it?

Domee Shi: Oh yeah, definitely. The diversity that I remember growing up with and surrounded by when I went to school. So I went to Orde Street Public School in like grade five and grade six before I like moved to the GTA. But I remember, yeah, not being like the only Asian in my class or my friend group. That I was just around people from all, who had parents from all over the world. A lot of immigrant kids and different accents and different languages, part of my normal everyday life. I just wanted to make sure that was depicted on screen. And that was just such a cool detail about Toronto that I wanted to share with the world. So we made sure we tried as best we could to represent that in the movie.

LIFE IS GOOD – In Disney and Pixar’s all-new original feature film “Turning Red,” 13-year-old Meilin Lee is happy with her friends, school and, well, most of the time her family—until the day when she begins to “poof” into a giant red panda at decidedly inconvenient times. Featuring Rosalie Chiang as the voice of Meilin, “Turning Red” will debut exclusively on Disney+ (where Disney+ is available) on March 11, 2022. © 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.
LIFE IS GOOD – In Disney and Pixar’s all-new original feature film “Turning Red,” 13-year-old Meilin Lee is happy with her friends, school and, well, most of the time her family—until the day when she begins to “poof” into a giant red panda at decidedly inconvenient times. Featuring Rosalie Chiang as the voice of Meilin, “Turning Red” will debut exclusively on Disney+ (where Disney+ is available) on March 11, 2022. © 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Keshav Kant: You all succeeded, I will say, watching you’re Turning Red, like I was like, oh, This is my school in Scarborough. This is like the group of friends I grew up with. So it was wonderful to see cause also my friends were like the squad. We were the anime geeks. Like we were sitting around talking about like Tumblr and stuff. You touched on it a little about how Toronto is such a melting pot of cultures.

The one thing that we need to highlight is the influence Blackness, and Caribbean cultures have had on Toronto’s foundation. And there’s like a there’s a running thread throughout the movie where Ming has a pretty clear disdain of like hip hop and when she calls gyration. And I read it as calling out the anti-Blackness that exists in Asian households. So was that purposeful? What was the thinking behind developing that story?

Domee Shi: It wasn’t so much anti-Blackness. But more like Ming was just averse to the idea of the West, in general, corrupting her perfect little daughter. Cuz I think, I dunno like my parents, I think just in general, just had this like understandably, because they went through so much in China and immigrating here. That they had a general distrust and confusion about anything that wasn’t what they were familiar with, which is Chinese Asian stuff. And even when I was like, I looked up some of the music I was listening to, like innocently as a kid. I don’t know if you remember or know b4-4; they’re like this, Toronto. I don’t know if they’re still around now, but they were those very cheesy Toronto boy band, and their lyrics are just…

And I was like, I can’t believe I was belting this out in front of my mom completely obliviously. So I think that was more of what I was Referencing when Ming was like that; it was more just this alien Western culture that, that she feels like it’s more like overtly sexual and is going to corrupt her innocent baby girl versus something that’s specifically anti-Black.


Keshav Kant: Yeah. I also think when you’re coming from, Asia as a whole, since the West steals Black culture because of the influence Black folks have it’s become so interwoven. So it’s something they don’t actually think about it. But good to know!

Okay. So in the past couple of weeks, Pixar employees came forward, sharing how many queer stories were left on the cutting room floor. And about the general support that Disney execs have had for the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill in Florida. If you feel comfortable, can you share how those pressures have impacted you or comment on the situation in general?


Domee Shi: Yeah. Yeah. Oh man, I feel so… I stand with Pixar and with all of the Disney employees who signed that open letter. It’s so important that these conversations that are happening are just so vital because these are our friends, our colleagues, our coworkers, our fans, our viewers. And it’s just; it’s not right, that Disney would ride that middle line. Yeah. And for me personally, for our movie that was dealing specifically with female puberty and menstruation we never got any notes about the appropriateness of it?

I think since we have many women in leadership roles in the movie we had each other’s back. You know, to defend the choices that we made in the story to fight for them to be in there. It just made me realize, oh, like it’s so important to have that representation behind the camera.

Domee Shi, Lindsey Collins, Sandra Oh, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan and Rosalie Chiang attend the Canadian Disney Premiere of "Turning Red" at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, Tuesday, March 8, 2022.  HO-DISNEY, GEORGE PIMENTEL, *MANDATORY CREDIT* / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Domee Shi, Lindsey Collins, Sandra Oh, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan and Rosalie Chiang attend the Canadian Disney Premiere of “Turning Red” at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, Tuesday, March 8, 2022.  HO-DISNEY, GEORGE PIMENTEL, *MANDATORY CREDIT* / THE CANADIAN PRESS

As much as I like being in front of the camera too. And yeah. And yeah, I don’t think there were any moments where we ever held back. Like when I pitched the movie, I was like, this is going, this is a girl dealing with magical puberty. I have two other ideas here, but I’m not going to hold back.

I led with this, with the intention of I’m going to shoot for the sun and land on the moon somewhere. If they have issues and I’m just going to lead like a super-strong, like right from the beginning. And I don’t think we ever got any notes about any of that. But yeah, it’s such a real thing, though. And I’m glad that, and even though it’s just like one small gesture, like the kiss, I’m glad that we were able to bring that kiss back in Lightyear, and I know like other shows have been struggling with that it too. But I think like everyone at Pixar is so behind wanting to tell these stories and represent this type of love on screen,

Keshav Kant: Yeah. It’s honestly wonderful to hear that at least you have this freedom, and we have to wrap up. So I want to say, outside of just the review I did for Off Colour, like my personal TikTok, everyone has loved Turning Red. There’s been so much amazing feedback. And you mentioned the importance of having representation, not just on-screen, but behind the screen. So do you have any parting words for creatives of colour who want to get involved in the industry and create such impactful work as you have?

Best Animated Short Film winners for "Bao" Domee Shi (R) and Becky Neiman-Cobb pose in the press room with their Oscars during the 91st Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on February 24, 2019. Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
Best Animated Short Film winners for “Bao” Domee Shi (R) and Becky Neiman-Cobb pose in the press room with their Oscars during the 91st Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on February 24, 2019. Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Domee Shi: Yeah. Keep doing it, keep sharing. But also for me, what helped me the most was finding people. Like finding my support system within the industry like within Pixar getting lunches with like fellow female story artists, like in the early days when there were literally like five of us in the department of 50 and finding any way not to feel alone. Cuz it’s like it, it does get so lonely when you are the other in a lot of these industries, but you’re not. And there are people out there who want to make cool stuff with you or at least support the stories you want to make. So find them and get that build that squad like, Mei has in Turning Red.

Keshav Kant: Yeah, honestly, that’s the perfect way to end this. Cuz it’s literally about the community at the end of the day, bringing the community who can back you up professionally or personally,

Domee Shi: For sure!

If you like this interview, you can check out our Patreon for an exclusive video version of this and more interviews. Also, check out our review of Pixar’s Turning Red here!

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