Last week while scrolling through my Facebook timeline (The usual habit when you are intending to sleep), I watched 'Bao'. I ended up with a lump in my throat.
The short film, directed by Chinese-Canadian Domee Shi, has received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short. But 'Bao' is special for many reasons besides it being Pixar’s first original short directed by a woman. The film perfectly captures emotions — plenty of them — in just a little over ten minutes. A mother's emotion when she grapples with an empty nest syndrome, her joyousness when she discovers that one of her dumplings springs to life and she gets another shot at motherhood, her overprotectiveness of little boy bao and eventually her despair.
"I was afraid that it would be too dark and too weird of a story to tell at Pixar," Shi told the media. Although dark, Shi touched a nerve there.
The story, Domee Shi says, is inspired from her childhood. Shi was born in China and raised in Toronto. In 2011, she started working at Pixar as an intern. Seven years later, she will now walk the red carpet at the Oscars as the first woman to direct a Pixar short.
The animation industry, including Pixar, has long been criticized for obstructing female animators from high paying jobs, NPR reported.
"You're just seeing this gradual shift in the industry because, before, animation was predominantly white and male," Shi had told NPR in an interview. The director said that the enrollment of female students in animation schools have now gone up to 50 percent. "...I hope that we're going to see those numbers be reflected in the industry and not just in the animation schools," she said.
Throughout the short, Shi illustrates that familiar tug between Chinese and Western cultures--- the lonely homes when the kids leave homes that are all too familiar with Chinese immigrant families.
In an interview to Time Magazine, Shi said that the idea of the mother being so overprotective was drawn from own experiences. "Growing up as an only child, I felt I was that overprotected, mothered little dumpling. My Chinese mom was always making sure I never wandered away too far, that I was safe," she said. She used the dumpling as a metaphor.
But it's only when the mother eats the dumpling1 is when the audience realise that it was all along being used as a metaphor for her actual son, who bears a strong resemblance to the bao.
The entire short has got these little elements — bao, classic red bowls, rice cooker, shrimp cakes, the lucky cat on the shelf and the grocery store calendar. It succeeds in what Shi was trying to achieve — to portray "what a Chinese home looks and feels like".
Meanwhile, the celebrations are on.
Bao means so much to me as a Chinese-Canadian growing up in #Toronto and I'm so delighted to hear it has received an #Oscars nom! In light of the happy news, here's a reminder that Disney-Pixar has shared the full short film here: https://t.co/NSuj9R4mdV— Julie Zhang (@juliejzhang) January 22, 2019
I really hope Bao wins an #Oscars I still remember watching it before incredibles 2. A tear slid down my cheek at the end, very heart felt and touching, kick you right between the feels.— Ramzy Hamdy (@rameo89) January 22, 2019
"I feel like Bao coming out is a signal of change—that such a big studio has gotten behind such a culturally-specific short led predominantly by women," Shi had told Time when asked about the boy's club in the animation industry. But she's optimistic about the future, and so are we.