A couple days ago, I came across a post from NextShark, an account I follow on Instagram that posts “Global Asian News.” This particular post (which can be found here) regarded Pixar’s short film “Bao,” which has recently been named a nominee for the 2019 Oscar’s Best Short Film Award.
After seeing this post, I was suddenly reminded of just how heart-wrenching and real this film felt to me when I first watched it a couple months ago. To me, it was undoubtedly a powerful masterpiece. Thus, I was beyond thrilled to hear this news.
However, as I continued to read the post’s caption, one part stood out to me in particular.
After discussing the overwhelmingly positive response from Asian American (and Asian Canadian, from what I have seen on various social media platforms) viewers, it states, “However, other viewers–many of whom were White–found it ‘confusing.'”
While inserting the phrase “many of whom are White” was more likely than not simply an attempt to provide additional details, the fact that the author of this caption chose to insert it using dashes rather than commas has an impact on the meaning of the sentence, not just the form of it.
By physically distancing these words from the rest of the sentence, the words themselves are not only emphasized but the idea that those words represent is as well: namely, whiteness.
I believe this distinction and emphasis of “white” rather than, say, “non-Asian,” gives the sentence a deeper level of meaning because it somehow helps better situate it in or connect it to the history of Asians in the Western world.
Western Orientalist ideology has existed in one form or another since the colonial-era, and crucial to this ideology was a power dynamic in which white Westerns were fundamentally superior to Asians. From this, perceptions that Asians were inherently exotic and different from Westerners arose, and it is these exact perceptions that still exist in some capacity today.
Thus, with this in mind, it is not as difficult to understand why some white people find a film that draws on Asian experiences and culture “confusing” or too different from what they know to understand.
However, this is obviously by no means a declaration that the film is in fact too “confusing” for non-Asians to understand. I wholeheartedly believe that, while some of the cultural nuances and details of the story may be unfamiliar to some, the film’s main themes of motherhood, loneliness, and reconciliation are universally understood. I think it is simply the lingering remnants of Orientalism in some people’s subconscious that has prevented them from being able to truly appreciate this masterpiece.