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(Re)Opening Imaginations

by Amy Cole

On Friday, March 5th, nearly a year after closing the theater due to the pandemic, we happily reopened our doors and welcomed back movie lovers with two new films: Raya and the Last Dragon in our Main Hall and One Night in Miami in our Screening Room. Both movies have significant and timely cultural relevance in their own right and both shine lights on important societal issues while entertaining and inspiring us, as only film can do. 

Let’s take a deeper look at Disney’s latest, Raya and the Last Dragon, which has important messaging for children and adults alike. In the movie, Raya, the title character, is “strong, resilient, clever, has a strong bond to her community and, is above all, hopeful.”

As the daughter of Vietnamese refugees, actress Kelly Marie Tran has much in common with the title character she portrays in this animated film. Tran is no stranger to racism and has spoken publicly about the movie addressing the need for unity among the Asian American community and allies during a time when they are being faced with a surge in hatred and violence. 

Since the pandemic began, hate crimes against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community have been on the rise. Between mid-March and the end of 2020, Stop AAPI Hate, a project run by a coalition of organizations, received 2,808 reports of racism and discrimination against Asian Americans. The Anti-Defamation League has tracked dozens of incidents in detail, from anti-Asian verbal harassment on New York’s subway to racist signs in California and New Mexico. Xenophobic rhetoric has helped fuel the fires and we find ourselves once again struggling to find peace and unity as a society. 

No spoilers here, but perhaps we can take a lesson from Raya and the Last Dragon and its hopeful message of seeing beyond ourselves and finding ways to trust one another to become stronger together. 

We do that in a small way when we come together in a theater to share a movie. Collectively, we let our imaginations take over and find ourselves free from preconceived ideas. And while Disney’s fantasy is fictional, the narrative is one that we have the power to make real.