Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon is now playing in theaters and streaming through Disney+ Premier Access. For the voice cast, who recorded their dialogue individually from homes around the world during the pandemic, uniting virtually to help promote the film also brought on new meaning to the story. At a time when anti-Asian hate crimes have increased by 150% in the United States, having an animated major motion picture inspired by Southeast Asian culture and with an Asian voice cast arrives when we need it most.

(Disney)

(Disney)

“I think we can't undervalue the power of the fact that this is a Disney movie and the people that will be watching this movie by and large are families, parents with their children, seeing this kind of representation, and understanding what is possible,” Daniel Dae Kim shared about his role as Raya’s father, Chief Benja. The actor has been using his platform to spread awareness about anti-Asian violence and to start conversations about how to stop it. “I'm also thinking about all the children who will be seeing Raya for the first time and seeing an Asian strong female who kicks ass and becomes a queen. She's on the path to becoming a ruler and she's being groomed by her father to do that in a loving relationship. All of these things are such a positive portrayal… It's exposure that brings understanding and that understanding is what changes perception. What this movie does on the scale of those things cannot be underestimated.”

“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,” Kelly Marie Tran revealed, lending her voice to the film’s title character. “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… 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… 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.”

(Disney)

(Disney)

Gemma Chan voices Namari, Raya’s main antagonist in the film, but off screen she and Kelly Marie Tran couldn’t be more supportive of each other. “We’re talking about everything that's going on at the moment and it's easy to feel overwhelmed with hopelessness and anger,” the actress said. “Where I get my hope from is that if you look for the helpers, there are helpers. There are people that have been helping and I just want to shout out all the grassroots organizations and individuals that have been doing the hard work on the ground for a long time and maybe not getting the airtime or the attention that they should… We've all got our part to play. So, us, the storytellers, we put out our film, which I hope has a message that resonates, and then we also have amazing people within our communities who are doing that work today, so I just want to shout them out.”

Playing Namari’s mother, Queen Virana, is Golden Globe-winning actress Sandra Oh. “For someone like myself, growing up in the ’70s and the ’80s, I didn't see anything,” Sandra Oh explained about the lack of Asian representation in film and television during her youth. “And I feel like that has been the same way, representation-wise, for a very long time. Seeing two of the younger voice actors on the virtual call, Izaac Wang (Boun) and Thalia Tran (Little Noi) filled the actress with hope and excitement. “Art is here to pose questions and to potentially suggest possibilities… I think that we know hate is not finished by hate. It is only won over by love. So we have to each, individually, and then hopefully as a community and then large community, societally move towards that way because all of us are in the same boat.”

(Disney)

(Disney)

Watching the film with his family was a special experience for Benedict Wong. “It was the first time we'd actually sat and watched the film entirely, all the way through,” the voice of Tong explained. “My son turned around and gave me a big hug and said, ‘I trust you, Daddy.’ As we've said in the room, this is it. We need this to unite… We are living through the remnants of this kind of hate that has permeated through the world. And it's, again, very timely with our beautiful film showing us that love can really lead the way.”

“When I was approached to play Sisu and heard what her vibe was, I was given a chance to add my own voice to it and just simultaneously build her up with the directors, who were always just more than willing to explore and play,” Awkwafina shared about joining the process early on and getting to help create her character. “When I first saw the human version of Sisu, I was like, ‘Okay, all right, that’s me…’ And so, those nuances are very, very trippy and very, very mind-blowing.”

(Disney)

(Disney)

As excited as the voice cast is to have Raya and the Last Dragon increasing the representation of Asian characters in media, the story comes from several key players, including Co-Writer Qui Nguyen. “I don't think we had any idea of how the world would become by the time this movie came out, especially when it comes to the injustices to the Asian American community right now,” he shared. “There have been some times where, in the last 365 days, there's been a lot of negative imagery and words said about Asians. So it's hard not to appreciate that this movie's coming out and kind of giving a counterpoint and just telling a positive story that just celebrates Asian American skin and Asian American lives and Asian American people. Because with any group that's underrepresented, when you only see stories where you're seen as the bad guy or a thug or what have you, it starts to paint a very negative picture of you for those who don't ever get to know you, who never get to be in the room with you. And so, I think step one is representation and really being out there, both behind and in front of the camera, with the stories we tell and then just being out there, so we can acknowledge that this world is all of us, not just any one of us. Because without that, I don't know how we get better, so I'm appreciative and grateful that this movie's coming out when it is.”

Audiences can now visit Raya’s world, a uniquely Disney fantasy experience with real-world influences. “Kumandra is an entirely, fantastical, fictional land, but it was very important to the filmmakers that the troubles that that land faces and the journey that Raya goes on, the struggles she faces, are rooted very much in the real world; the problems that we're facing in terms of division,” Co-Writer Adele Lim revealed. “But it was particularly important that the way Raya goes about trying to solve this is also reflected in reality. It is not an easy thing. It is not just an easy byword that we're just going to say the word ‘trust’ and magically hope it comes together. That it is something that you keep doing, even though you lose everything that's important to you, even though you were betrayed, even though your heart is broken. That we have to keep reaching out because it is the only way we are going to be able to move forward in this world together. And particularly, with everything that's been happening in this last year, the violence towards Asian Americans, seeing each other as the other, words have power and words have the power to paint people in a different light. They have the power to bring us together. So, hopefully, this movie is our word, and our message to the world of let's pull together.”

(Disney)

(Disney)

Raya and the Last Dragon is now playing in theaters and can be ordered through Disney+ Premier Access.