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Bao: keeping you rooted to your seat and rooted in culture

The director and writer of Bao (2018), Shi (2018), shares in an interview, her yearn to embrace what resonates most with her Chinese-Canadian childhood and environment. Pixar’s eight-minute short premiered on June 15 as an appetiser to Incredibles 2 (2018), only this time embracing an immigrant-family in America, a slightly varying approach than Incredibles 2, an all-white family of five. Bao encourages us to look at the film empathetically, as cultural assimilation is subtly highlighted through visual metaphors, provoking a social issue, – an elevation to Pixar’s mastermind.

Bao centres around a Chinese-Canadian empty-nesting homemaker’s journey at nurturing one of her dumplings that breathed life. Throughout the movie, the dumpling ages and undergoes a rebellious phase influencing cultural self-rejection – playing soccer with his American friends instead of practising Tai Chi, a Chinese martial art, as stated by Wikipedia Commons (2019), (Figure 2). Following that, we see a back door of the dumpling’s room, and posters of a soccer player and “Lil’ Boyz”, seemingly an African-American boy band are hung (Figure 3). In another scene, despite the mother’s efforts to cook a succulent range of Chinese feast, the dumpling leaves with his American friends after shrugging at the food in disgust (Figure 4). These scenes create awareness on what second-generation children undergo, with the pressure to assimilate and be accepted socially. It provokes a different cultural perspective than Pixar’s other creation, Coco (2018), where the protagonist, Miguel, embraces his culture through music. It opens our eyes to a barely spoken issue among children, encouraging us to embrace our culture than being a banana.

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Apart from its emphasis on cultural significance, Bao carries a universal message of kinship as mentioned by Dockerman (2018), which revolves around visual metaphors. An example is the mother’s homecooked meal prepared for the dumpling. Commonly practised by Asian parents, food is used to translate their love, in sheltering their kid with care. When the dumpling ignorantly storms off, not only is the meal declined but the mother’s love is symbolically rejected (Figure 5). Following Bao’s pivotal moment, the mother gobbles the dumpling, which is a portrayal of a parent’s venture to protect their kid, with the fear of losing him in an argument or physically (Figure 6). During the closing act, when her real son returns home, the entire show is summarised – the mother amending relations through a second chance at parenthood with the fear of her son wandering too far (Figure 7). It touches our hearts deeply, while prompting us to ponder upon a relatable parent hardly distinctive to one culture.

Bao is a must-see experience for understanding differences regarding universal truths while encouraging one to embrace their culture. As it holds significance around Asian immigrants, there is a highly undervalue of cinematic assimilation occurring in this day ought to be exposed to children for a greater perspective in this world. Despite so, the story is broadened through metaphors, nonetheless a family story close to our hearts beyond racial boundaries – making it a must-see experience for all.

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