Why the 2019 Oscar Win for Pixar’s ‘Bao’ Has Viewers Unapologetically Shook
Sunday night’s hostless 2019 Oscars ceremony had its share of pleasant surprises, from viewers’ unexpectedly positive reactions to the whole no-host thing to history-making wins for filmmaker Spike Lee and others. One of those historic firsts came when Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Domee Shi was named the first female director from Pixar to nab the statuette in the Best Animated Short category for Bao.
The eight-minute featurette was released with The Incredibles 2 in 2018 and immediately caught attention as Pixar’s first woman-directed short film. It was also a film that resonated hugely with Asian-American and Asian-Canadian audiences from the moment it hit theaters.
Set in the Chinese immigrant community of Shi’s native Toronto, Bao is a modern fairy-tale that also serves as a parable about immigration and, specifically, the inter-generational tensions between forces of tradition and assimilation. The story follows a Chinese immigrant woman who makes a handmade bao (a breadlike Chinese dumpling) that magically comes to life.
Bao, viewers learn, has come to fill the hole left by the woman’s actual human son who has flown the nest. But, as the movie progresses and the little dumpling becomes older and more independent, it, too, rebels against the doting mother figure as it increasingly gravitates toward the outside world. In a panic, the woman swallows Bao and confronts her adult son’s return.
Though some white moviegoers were baffled by the story, Bao was embraced by many others — and by viewers of Asian descent, in particular. The film’s Oscar win, and its significance for Asian representation in Hollywood, had Oscars viewers shook.
To cap it off, Shi used her awards speech to send a message to girls aspiring toward careers in the male-dominated world of animation and illustration: “To all the nerdy girls who hide behind their sketchbooks, don’t be afraid to share your stories with the world!”
(Photos via Disney/Pixar)