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INTERVIEW – Director Sean Wang on His Oscar Nominated Film ‘Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó’

Nai Nai and Wai Po Interview min

Director Sean Wang’s short film, Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó, is a love letter to his grandmothers. The film was inspired by Wang’s time living with his grandmothers for several months in 2021. He realized then what a special time that was, because of the unique experience of actually living with his grandmothers as an adult.

The film, which was recently nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Film, has captured the hearts of countless audiences of all backgrounds and cultures, due to its fun, heartwarming and sincere look into the lives of two grandmothers, 96 and 86 years old.

Senior Writer Elijah Johnson recently sat down with Wang to delve into his creative process, and it was clear that while the film has impacted so many, the primary goal was to make a film for his family.

“Another reason we made the movie was because I knew that time together with them was special. I had never spent that much time with my grandmothers in my life under one roof. And I knew that once I moved away again, I was moving to Los Angeles, I knew that I would never have this much time with my grandmothers ever again in my adult life,” Wang said. “And that feeling was compounded with the fact that I could really feel Nǎi Nai’s age, she was 94 when we shot, she’s 96 now, thankfully she’s still healthy. But I had this thought that when I do move away, every time I see her, it could be the last time; she’s just at that age in her life. A lot of that informed the style of the movie. How do we make it feel like it’s this moment in time that we kind of trapped on film?”

One reason that this intimate story of two elderly Asian grandmothers, which Wang describes as a “home video,” has connected so deeply with so many viewers, is that the story is about more than just two grandmothers. Wang shared that those who have seen the film expressed how moved they were by the story of friendship.

“A lot of people have come up to me and said, ‘Even though I don’t have my grandmothers anymore, even though I don’t have that type of relationship with my grandparents, I see a friendship. I see their relationship in me and my friends.’…This movie is about my grandmothers, but it’s also about sisterhood and friendship. I think there’s something so beautiful about the way they take care of one another too….I think that quality in a friendship is so special,” Wang said.

(L-R) Wài Pó and Nǎi Nai
(L-R) Wài Pó and Nǎi Nai

While the film may not originally have had such lofty goals such as being nominated for an Academy Award, with the reality now that it is on massive platforms like Disney+ and Hulu, and is sure to get more attention after the awards show, Wang expressed that he hopes that audiences will watch the film and be reminded about the humanity in all of us and our families.

“I hope they laugh. I hope they smile. I think that’s what Nǎi Nai and Wài Pó do for me. I think they bring a joy into my life so I hope it brightens up their day,” Wang said. “But also you spend 17 minutes with these two women and you realize how much humanity they have. How many lives they’ve lived before the lives we see on screen. How much history they have. How many stories they have. How soulful their eyes are. You can just tell they’ve gone through things and have years and years of human experience, more than I have, more than you have. I hope people realize, spend time with your loved ones, ask them questions, be present with them. I think one thing I learned in this movie is that sharing space is not the same thing as spending time.”

Watch the full interview below. Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó is streaming now on Disney+ and Hulu.

POC Culture Interview with Director Sean Wang

Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture.  He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.

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