‘Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó’ Director Sean Wang’s Path to the Oscars

Sean Wang is receiving a slew of recognition for his short documentary film, Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó. It’s streaming for over 100 million subscribers on Disney+ and Hulu, it’s relaunching Disney’s classic People and Places series, and it’s been nominated for Best Documentary Short Film at the 96th annual Academy Awards®.

But for the 29-year-old director, all of this is just icing on the cake.

“We didn’t know if any of that was going to happen, but it wasn’t why we made the movie,” Wang said. “We really made the movie to have a memento and a time capsule of these two really incredible women.”

Those two women are his grandmothers – 86-year-old Chang Li Hua (Wài Pó) on his mother’s side, and 96-year-old Yi Yan Fuei (Nǎi Nai) on his father’s side. The film examines their playful relationship with one another, as well as their more serious feelings on aging and mortality.

Wang worked on finishing Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó and developing his first feature film, Dìdi, while at the Sundance Institute. It was there that he became a recipient of a grant from The Walt Disney Studios’ Project Advancement and Completion Fund, which is aimed at providing support to fiction directors from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds.

“Incredible” is how Wang describes the support he got from the Disney fund and the Sundance Institute: “both in just a very tangible financial way” and an “emotional” way.

“The hurdle of being a young filmmaker, obviously is resources and money and trying to get things off the ground,” Wang said. “But I think there’s so much to be said about… someone you admire looking at you and being like ‘hey, I know you’re still figuring it out, but this thing that you’re trying to figure out… I see something special, and I want to just help you get to where I think you can get to.’”

Wang hopes that future recipients of Disney’s Project Advancement and Completion fund can find the same sense of community that helped him on his burgeoning career path.

One stop on Wang’s path is reviving Disney’s long dormant People and Places series.

From 1953 to 1960, Disney produced a series of 17 travelogue featurettes under that banner, shedding light on ways of life everywhere; from the Eskimos of Alaska, to a family of fisherfolk in Japan, to even a Disneyland U.S.A. visit.

Three of the films in that original series won Academy Awards.

Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó is the first installment in the relaunch of the People and Places series. “To have a platform like Disney+, and then to have it be the first movie that revives this very revered series that they’ve had, it’s incredible,” Wang said.

Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó

For Wang, he’s just thrilled that Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó is connecting with so many people. He says that the awards and distribution are “stuff we don’t really have control over. But because people saw and resonated with the movie, it feels special that it’s sort of coming together in a very organic way.”

And what about Nǎi Nai and Wài Pó themselves?

“I feel very fortunate and lucky that they are still in good health and can celebrate this moment with me and with us,” Wang said. “They’re coming down to LA for the Oscars, so, I think it’s going to be special.”

Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó