'An action hero and not just some damsel in distress': Raya and the Last Dragon inspires Calgary cosplayers

Why Calgary's Filipino and cosplay community is feeling pride and excitement over Disney's animated feature, Raya and the Last Dragon.

Costumes already being created of the new Disney heroine inspired by southeast Asian culture

Why these Calgary cosplayers are excited about Disney's latest animated film

2 years ago
Duration 1:37
These cosplaying Disney princesses from Calgary are excited to add Raya to the mix, especially as the new film pays homage to their Southeast Asian roots.

Vanessa Wedge started sewing her Raya costume last fall, right after Disney dropped its first trailer of the animated film Raya and the Last Dragon

"When I first heard about it, most of the buzz was about the cultural representation," said Wedge, who has been doing cosplay (creating costumes representing characters in film, TV and video games), in Calgary since 2003.

"She seems like more of an action hero and not just some damsel in distress. And the representation was amazing. I'm half Filipino, and I've just never really seen a kind of Filipino or a southeast Asian representation in mainstream media."

  • WATCH | See the cosplayers in action in the video above

Disney's newest princess, Raya, is a back-flipping (and butt-kicking) martial artist who wields swords and Filipino fighting sticks, called Arnis.

Raya lives in a fictional land called Kumandra, which is suffering from tribal warfare and a plague that's turning people into stone. She sets off to find the last dragon who, she believes, is the key to solving all of these problems.

Calgarian Ness Wedge says she used fabrics from the Philippines in her Raya costume. (Submitted by Vanessa Wedge)

"You want to be able to see yourself on screen among everyone else," said Wedge who revealed her personal Raya transformation on Instagram over the weekend.

Wedge is not alone in her pride and excitement over the cultural representation aspects of this new film. A lot of people took to social media to comment.

'Another special princess to add to the list'

Calgarian Gladzy Kei, also a cosplayer, organized a virtual group screening of Raya and the Last Dragon on the weekend with some of her friends who are also of Filipino heritage.

"Everybody was super excited," Kei told the Calgary Eyeopener. 

"There were references to the Salakot, which is the ethnic (Philippine) headgear. It is also present in a lot of southeast Asian cultures. A lot of farmers wear it to protect their heads from the sun and from rain as well. There's plenty of references to food, you know, like the references to just eating all together, with family."

Kei also focused on the artistry of the animated feature.

"As cosplayers, we tend to look at the details of the costumes and get super excited about the craftsmanship. Because even in 3D form they show the texture of the leather and embroidery, and even references to how the bamboo is layered for the hat the Raya uses, it's very, very good. And to me as a crafter that's what I see and that's what gets me excited because I want to make that myself." 

When asked which is her favourite of Disney the princesses, Kei says her allegiance is split. 

"Raya is definitely close to my heart, but right now Moana is still one of my favourites, for sure. That's just very meaningful to me personally because when I watched Moana, I went home to the Philippines and got to see it with a whole bunch of friends. And when I did the cosplay photo shoot it was back home. Because she was the first one to me that resonated, and then Raya is just another special princess to add to the list."


Based in Calgary, Danielle Nerman covers business and economics for CBC Radio's The Cost of Living. Danielle's 20-year journalism career has taken her to meet China's first female surfer and on a journey deep into Mongolia's Gobi Desert in search of fossil thieves.