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
OH MY GOD, I’M TORN APART RN
this movie makes me so emotional
I’M A MESS
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.