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How Raya and the Last Dragon Reflects the Need for Asian and Black Solidarity

Updated: Feb 26

My pillow is soaked.

It’s Friday, March 5, 2021. The title credits are rolling, but a steady stream of tears blurs my vision. I’ve just finished watching Raya and the Last Dragon, and it shook me to my core.

Throughout the movie’s progression, I had been updating some of my friends via text, sharing my reaction to the film through periodic, nonsensical messages:

update: not even 20 minutes in and i’m crying


this movie makes me so emotional


the tears are actually streaming down my face

Inspired by my incomprehensible keyboard gibberish, one of my friends decided to open up Disney+ and see what all the hype was about. Sure enough, two hours—and one animated movie—later, she replied:

ok, justine’s just soft

Her brutal honesty made me laugh. She wasn’t wrong; the movie had beautiful animation and a compelling story, but it wasn’t perfect. I hadn’t expected it to elicit such a strong emotional response. Perhaps it was the incomprehensible joy of seeing visual representation on screen—after 18 years on this planet, gazing upon a screen and seeing a strong, multi-dimensional character who embodied more than a racial trope. For the first time in my life, I saw a character who actually looked like me: a character whose skin is the same shade of brown, whose nose slopes just like mine, and whose eyes are the same eyes that stare back at me whenever I view my reflection in the mirror.

I know the power that representation holds, especially to those deprived of it their entire lives. However, I couldn’t shake a nagging feeling that the tears induced by watching Raya and the Last Dragon were more than just from representation in mainstream media. They reflected a much larger phenomenon, yet I couldn’t paint an accurate picture of what it was, no matter how hard I tried.