Raya and the Last Dragon: a powerful story of personal, political healing

Raya and the Last Dragon movie artwork.

By Guest Contributor: Mai Nguyen Do

Note: This essay contains mild spoilers for the film ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’.

Representation isn’t just about descriptive characteristics. It’s about reflecting the complexities of lived experiences, including the dynamic, evolving nature of culture. There are aspects of Southeast Asian culture woven throughout Raya and the Last Dragon in textiles, food, spiritual practice, and so on. 

Raya’s strength, however,  is in its assertion of authenticity rather than its conformity to concepts of authenticity. Instead of attempting to conform to what are typically Western-centric or white-centric notions of what makes presentations of our cultures authentic, Raya affirmatively respects various aspects of our cultures while also building on them to create an immersive, imaginative experience that is substantively – not just descriptively – representational. From the dynamic, complex characters to small details like the fruit on a table, Raya is an incredible work that meaningfully engages with concepts of culture, conflict, representation, and justice. It’s a must-watch for everyone.

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