Kelly Marie Tran Is the First Southeast Asian Actor to Lead a Disney Animated Feature

Star Wars alumnae Kelly Marie Tran is making history as the first Southeast Asian actor to lead a Disney animated feature with her casting in Raya and the Last Dragon. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, she said that the news was emotional and that she's proud to have the opportunity to voice a badass princess.

Tran is no stranger to being the face of on-screen representation. When she appeared in Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker, she said that her friends and family loved seeing her — and that she was, too.

"I just cried and laughed through the whole thing," Tran told EW of seeing herself. "I didn't know that I was yearning just to see someone who looks like me."

Kelly Marie Tran

As for Raya, Tran — she replaced Cassie Steele, who was previously cast as the lead — explained that the character is a Disney Princess, though viewers will get treated to a new kind of princess.

"She is someone who is technically a princess, but I think that what's really cool about this project, about this character specifically, is that everyone's trying to flip the narrative on what it means to be a princess," Tran said. "Raya is totally a warrior. When she was a kid, she was excited to get her sword. And she grows up to be a really badass, gritty warrior and can really take care of herself."

EW notes that Raya and the Last Dragon is also the first Disney animated feature to be set in Southeast Asia. Alongside Tran, Awkwafina is set to voice the dragon Sisu. Adele Lim, who worked on Crazy Rich Asians, co-wrote the screenplay with playwright Qui Nguyen.

"I remember having this experience of recognizing some of the words and recognizing some of the names and the locations and even certain characters and our job descriptions of what influenced them to be a certain way," Tran says of the film's setting. "I felt so seen, and it was such a blissful feeling. I don't know if I can even explain it, but it was this surprise. I've worked on some things before which obviously weren't as culturally specific as this, and I don't think that I knew that I needed that."

The film is set to hit theaters on March 21, 2021.

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