Domee Shi on Bafta nomination beside ‘filmmaking hero’ and ‘hilarious’ Sandra Oh

Director Domee Shi said she grew up loving filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro and “can’t believe” her animated film Turning Red is competing against Pinocchio for a Bafta.

The 33-year-old said she made the comedy about growing up to guide her 13-year-old self through the “tumultuous experience of puberty” and wanted to highlight her Chinese-Canadian heritage in the film which features Sandra Oh and Maitreyi Ramakrishnan.

Shi told the PA news agency: “I was so excited at this opportunity to really highlight my culture and my heritage, coming from Toronto, Canada from a Chinese immigrant family, and really use this backdrop to tell this universal coming-of-age story but through a lens which we’ve never seen before on a world stage.

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“It was just so much fun to geek out about specific Chinese dishes that the character would be cooking at home, like the dumplings and the specific dishes that her mum and her dad would make for her, down to the the small details in her family temple and that ancestral worship and really sharing that part of Chinese culture with the world was super cool.

“But also showing even though my background is so different than a lot of other people in the audience we have so many things in common too.

“We were all at some point horribly embarrassed by our mums, we have all had cringy embarrassing crushes on classmates, on musicians, on boy band members, and that we’re all the same in that we all probably don’t want to go back to being 13.”

On Thursday, Turning Red was nominated for Bafta’s best animated film alongside Marcel The Shell With Shoes On from Dean Fleischer Camp, Joel Crawford’s Puss In Boots and Del Toro’s Pinocchio.

Shi told PA: “It’s amazing that his (Del Toro’s) movie is competing with my movie. I grew up loving Pan’s Labyrinth and all of the work that he’s done so to have a filmmaking hero of mine as a competitor, it’s just so amazing – I can’t believe I’m here.”

Shi said the Turning Red cast made the film “1000 times better than I could have ever imagined”, particularly picking out US actress Oh who plays character Ming Lee.

Sandra Oh
Sandra Oh who plays Ming Lee in Turning Red (James Manning/PA)

She said: “I think she added so much depth and nuance to the character of Ming who on paper could so easily turn out one dimensional or like a dragon lady tiger mum stereotype.

“But because she approached every line from the emotional drive of ‘I just want to protect my daughter, I just love her so much that I don’t want anything bad to happen to her’ that really helped sell a lot of the harsher lines or scenes.

“And she’s so funny, Sandra is hilarious. She’s one of those rare actresses who can really easily switch between drama and comedy. She brought this demonic hilarious monster voice for Ming in the third act and that was all her.

“Our plan at the beginning was to put an effect over her voice to make it sound deep and scary but she went there and then she instantly goes to empathetic, emotional hurt mum in an instant.”

Shi also described the film as a “labour of love” having first pitched the film to Pixar in 2017 and making it during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Disney’s Turning red – UK Gala Screening
Director Domee Shi, Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, and producer Lindsay Collins, arriving for the gala screening of Disney’s Turning Red (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

She told PA: “I think you can tell it when you watch the movie it was just so much fun to make. We animated most of it from home and it became almost like an escape for a lot of us who were dealing with the uncertainty of the pandemic and the world.

“I really just wanted this movie to feel almost like an oasis where we can all just come and play with our teen selves and make it into something that we can all celebrate and be proud of.

“You can really feel that positive energy when you watch the movie, that we were all just trying to make something fun and joyous that celebrates growing up, it celebrates women, that celebrates Chinese culture.”

Following the nominations, director Baz Luhrmann said he “couldn’t be more thrilled” that the artists and actors behind his Elvis biopic have been acknowledged by the Bafta film awards.

The movie received nods in nine categories, including best film, best leading actor for Austin Butler and best cinematography.

Baz Luhrmann comments
Director Baz Luhrmann (Ian West/PA)

Luhrmann told the PA news agency: “On behalf of the Elvis producers, thank you Bafta for honouring our film with nine nominations.

“This recognition means the world to all of us and we are proud to be nominated for best film alongside such remarkable works of cinema.

“In Elvis Presley you couldn’t find a better life to explore our profound fascination with pop culture and the massive societal changes that took us through the 50s, 60s and 70s.

“Elvis was at the centre of this melting pot of music and rebellion coming together at the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. That’s the story we set out to tell, in a way that would bring a whole new generation of audiences to an understanding of the radical and spiritual artist behind the icon.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled with the acknowledgment our collaboration has received today for our talented artists and especially for Austin, who lived and breathed Elvis for three years to reveal not just the icon but the humanity of the man.”

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Meanwhile, Mandy Walker was also making strides at the Bafta nominations as the only female in the cinematographer category following her work on the Elvis biopic.

She told PA: “We’ve got a long way to go for to be getting half and half, it’s definitely getting better, because it’s taken a long time. There’s a movement in the industry and especially with my peers and other cinematographers in being more inclusive and recognising that women are doing good work.

“When I very first started in the industry in Australia, I didn’t realise that there weren’t women doing my job, until I actually got on set, I just ignored it.

“I just worked really hard and kept on persevering and knowing that I could do it because there is no reason why women can’t do my job.

“Especially me being nominated, I feel it’s great for other women to and the industry in general to say, we’re here we’re doing good work.”