Now that Raya and the Last Dragon is on Disney+ and in theaters, audiences are connecting with its emotionally resonant ending. Kelly Marie Tran, who provided the voice of Raya, is among them herself. Tran, an inspiration to many fans for persevering against racist, sexist bullies online, recently shared how the ending of her Disney animated film affected her.
[Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for Raya and the Last Dragon.]
Tran spoke on a Zoom press conference for Raya and the Last Dragon on Feb. 26. Since she and the people on the Zoom had seen the film early, Tran described what the film’s ending meant to her.
What Is ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ about?
Kumandra has been divided ever since the Druun turned all the dragons to stone. The Heart kingdom possesses the dragon gem that is protecting Kumandra. When Chief Benja (Daniel Dae Kim) invites the Fang, Tail, Talon and Spine kingdoms for dinner, they try to steal the dragon gem. The gem splits into five pieces and the Druun returns.
Benja’s daughter, Raya, teams up with the last dragon, Sisu (Awkwafina) to find the pieces of the gem and unite Kumandra again. Sisu teaches Raya that she has to learn to trust the other kingdoms, even though they have hurt her before. In the end, Raya trusts Fang warrior Namaari (Gemma Chan) to do the right thing with the gem, and Namaari responds positively to the shared trust.
Kelly Marie Tran related to the theme of ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’
Tran has certainly been through enough experiences that would make her more guarded. After leaving social media due to racist and sexist bullying, Raya and the Last Dragon’s messge to trust people, even when it’s hard, resonated with her.
“There’s a moment for me specifically with Raya when, just towards the end of the movie, she gets to feel justifiably and absolutely unapologetically angry,” Tran said. “And, for me, seeing a young woman in a movie like this just get to feel that righteous anger and then recognizing that the thing that pulls her out of it is seeing her friends and how they’re helping other people just feels so real to me.”
In particularly, seeing Raya and Namaari reconnect moved Tran.
When I really think about my life when things like that have happened to me, I think about just how difficult it is to get out of your own biases when you’re looking at someone who you see as an enemy. Then, just how incredibly, by the end of the story, Raya and Namaari are then suddenly willing to step outside of themselves. They risk everything for this idea of community, this idea of what their relationship could have been this entire time. It’s really, really inspiring. It’s something that I want to do in my own life. But, their relationship in this movie is probably one of my favorites, just because of how complicated it is.
Kelly Marie Tran on moving forward
Tran also related the theme of Raya and the Last Dragon to the attacks against Asian-Americans she witnessed in the last year. Anti-Asian racism increased following the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
I don’t want to speak for everyone, but I can say seeing these attacks happening over and over and over consistently, you do get to that place sometimes where you feel like, ‘Oh, this is a very broken world and I’m feeling a lot of things right now.’ And recognizing, for me, gosh, that moment felt so grounded in reality because you can’t just say, ‘Trust, unity, like, yay, it’s going to be fine.’ Acknowledging that there’s a lot of pain that happens there and recognizing that the only way to really get through it is to look for the bits of hope in your community.
Zooming with the cast and filmmakers behind Raya and the Last Dragon gave Tran additional hope.
“I see so much hope on this call with all of these people that I look up to so much,” Tran said. “I think everyone on this call is doing impossible things in a world that told us we couldn’t. So, I’m grateful to be part of that, to be making a movie with all of you guys about that same thing, with these characters who are also trying to fight for a world that feels impossible and hopeless sometimes.”
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