Warning: Spoilers for “Bao” below!
Animated short “Bao” was released this month, attached to Pixar’s “Incredibles 2.” And while the short — which is set in Toronto’s Chinese immigrant community — drew great praise from Asians across the interwebs, not everybody was as moved.
“Bao,” which premiered on June 15, is the first original Pixar short to be directed by a woman ― Chinese-Canadian director Domee Shi. With Chinese elements and concepts peppered throughout, many viewers from Asian immigrant families felt familiar aspects of their lives reflected on screen. However, some white social media users found the short confusing and even laughable, failing to recognize the Asian cultural values and themes so rarely represented in Hollywood.
The short tells the tale of an aging woman who’s dealing with empty-nest syndrome. When one of her dumplings comes to life, she’s afforded another chance at motherhood. However, she soon learns that the dumpling child, like most things in life, won’t stay “cute and small forever.”
The dumpling boy eventually grows up and turns into a bit of a rebellious dude. He eventually attempts to leave her home with his blond girlfriend. In an act of desperation, the mother eats him, but the audience soon learns the dumpling was a metaphor for her actual son, who bears a strong resemblance to the glasses-and-goatee-sporting bao.
Much of the short exemplifies the tug between Chinese and Western cultures. Viewers can spot traditional cultural markers like the classic red bowls, shrimp chips and a rice cooker and also get a look at topics that immigrant families grapple with like interracial dating
“Interracial dating is just a huge thing, and a lot of immigrant families are dealing with it,” Shi explained to Thrillist. “[Their] kids are bringing home spouses or partners or people that are not from the same culture as their parents. There isn’t a lot of conflict, but it’s more like there’s an awkwardness because there’s just a strangeness to it.”
The film also addresses the well-meaning overprotectiveness of immigrant parents ― something that Shi dealt with growing up.
“My inspiration mainly came from my own life. Growing up I was that overprotected little dumpling for my Chinese mom,” she told My Statesman. “I was an only child living in Toronto with my parents, and they’ve always kind of watched over me and made sure I was safe — kept me really, really close.”
With its very specific references and storyline that shows the navigation through a mishmash of cultures, many viewers of Asian descent found the film particularly poignant ― a far cry from confusing or laughable. And a number of viewers defended the short.
Perhaps the film would be less perplexing to white peeps with this detail completely clarified: