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He moved in with his grandmothers during COVID. His film about them is in the running for an OscarExBulletin

He moved in with his grandmothers during COVID.  His film about them is in the running for an OscarExBulletin


During the pandemic, filmmaker Sean Wang moved home and realized he wanted to preserve the unexpected moments with his family. His short film, Nai Nai and Wi-P, was nominated for an Oscar.


Three years ago, at the height of the COVID pandemic, filmmaker Sean Wang left New York to return to California to live with his family, including his paternal grandmother, his nai nai, and his maternal grandmother , sa wai po.

SEAN WANG: Nai Nai is Yi Yan Fuei and Wai Po is Chang Li Hua.

CHANG: The 29-year-old filmmaker wanted to preserve this unexpected moment together, so he started filming. As NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, his short documentary is now nominated for an Oscar.

S WANG: Ni hao.



MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: That's Sean Wang on the phone with his two grandmothers, ages 86 and 96 – stars of his charming 17-minute documentary “Nai Nai & Wai Po.”


S WANG: They live together. They sleep in the same bed. They're sort of best friends, roommates, and soul mates, in a way.


CHANG: (Non-English language spoken).

S WANG: They truly are the purest form of joy in my life. I love them so much. I wanted to show people how extraordinary, beautiful and complex people like my grandmothers are.


CHANG: (Non-English language spoken).

DEL BARCO: Wang's film captures their daily lives – waking up, reading the newspaper, exercising, cutting fruit. They sing. They dance. They remember but also joke about farting and even mischievous arm wrestling.


S WANG: Living with them and feeling all that joy with them was kind of juxtaposed with a lot of the anti-Asian hate crimes that were happening in our country at the time, but especially in the Bay Area where I'm from, you know. – seeing people like my grandmothers, people in our community, elderly people in our community being attacked, you know. And it was just this extreme juxtaposition of seeing that in the news on my computer and then walking into the same room as them and them lighting me up with a smile.


YI: (non-English language spoken).

CHANG: (Non-English language spoken).

DEL BARCO: Wang's sister, Jennifer Lee (ph), translated when I asked the grandmothers if they were in the film.

YI: (Through interpreter) I hope people who watch this film will truly respect the elderly people in their lives.

CHANG: (Through interpreter) I hope that all the older generations of the world can see this film and see that – even in our twilight years or later in life, that we can still find joy.

DEL BARCO: For his first feature film, “Didi,” he asked his wai po to play the role of the strong-willed grandmother.


IZAAC WANG: (As Chris Wang) Look at the camera.

CHANG: (As Nai Nai, speaking in a language other than English).

DEL BARCO: The semi-autobiographical story takes place in the late 2000s. The main character fights with his sister, is mean to his mother and has a crush on a girl. He chats on Myspace and starts filming his friends while they skateboard, which Wang himself was doing. Wang says he was inspired by filmmaker Spike Jones, who also began making skateboarding videos, and wanted to make his own coming-of-age film.

S WANG: I remember being really inspired when “Mid90s” and “Eighth Grade” came out because I loved both of those films. Like “The 400 Blows”, “Stand By Me”, “Water Lilies”, “Ratcatcher”, you know, the canon of films about adolescence – I can't name the poster of the film that features an Asian 13 years old. An American child looking at me.

DEL BARCO: At this year's Sundance Film Festival, “Didi” won two awards and was quickly acquired by Focus Features. Michelle Satter directs artistic programs at the Sundance Institute.

MICHELLE SATTER: He has a unique voice. I think it's stylistically exciting. You know, his work is both funny and fresh, and he exudes incredible energy.

DEL BARCO: A few days after the premiere of “Didi,” Wang returned to California to be with his grandmothers as they watched “Nai Nai & Wai Po” be nominated for the short documentary Oscar.


S WANG: (cheering).

DEL BARCO: Wang says the whole experience is still so surreal. Now he and his grandmothers are preparing for the Oscars.

S WANG: They're taking me to this point. Like, I'm their plus-one, you know (laughs)?

DEL BARCO: Wang's nai nai and wai po say they are over the moon.

YI: (Through interpreter) I am happy beyond belief. I'm excited. I thank everyone, especially for their kindness towards my grandson.

CHANG: (Non-English language spoken).

JENNIFER LEE: She said it's like, you know, old grandmothers are now turning into princesses. “I couldn’t have even imagined this, so I’m really, really excited, really happy.”

DEL BARCO: And Wang says they'll look stunning on the red carpet.

CHANG: (Non-English language spoken).

YI: (non-English language spoken). Bye Bye.

CHANG: Thank you.

DEL BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

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