Toronto-raised director Domee Shi pumped up her fellow “nerdy” artists on Sunday as she won her first-ever Oscar for the animated dumpling tale “Bao,” which marks Pixar’s first short film directed by a woman.
“To all of the nerdy girls out there who hide behind their sketchbooks — don’t be afraid to tell your stories to the world,” Shi said onstage in her acceptance speech at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
“You’re going to freak people out but you’ll probably connect with them, too, and that’s an amazing feeling to have. Thank you to (executive producer) Pete Docter for believing in my weirdness and for giving me a voice at the studio.”
Shi, who shares the Oscar with producer Becky Neiman-Cobb, also thanked her parents and her partner for his support and for being her “human stressball.”
Shi wrote and directed the Pixar production, about a Chinese-Canadian woman with empty-nest syndrome who dotes on an adorable little dumpling that miraculously springs to life at the dinner table.
The eight-minute film is set in Toronto and features many of the city’s landmarks.
Shi was born in Chongqing, China and moved to Toronto with her family at age two. She used her upbringing and love of food as inspiration for “Bao,” which played in theatres with ”Incredibles 2.”
“I’m an only child, so I’ve always been that overprotected little dumpling for my whole life,” she said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.
“I just wanted to use this short to explore that relationship between an overprotective parent and a child, using this magical metaphor.”
Since “Bao“‘s release, two more women have directed animated shorts at Pixar: Rosana Sullivan with “Kitbull” and Kristen Lester with “Purl.”
“‘Bao’ blazed a trail, but … we are just happy to be one of many, many female directors to come,” Shi told reporters backstage after her win.
— The Academy (@TheAcademy) February 25, 2019
A graduate of the animation program at Ontario’s Sheridan College, Shi beat out two other films by Canadians for the Oscar — “Weekends” by Hamilton-born Trevor Jimenez and “Animal Behaviour” by Vancouver-based couple David Fine and Alison Snowden.
“Bao” was one of three short-film ideas she had presented to a panel of Pixar representatives as part of an open call for pitches at the studio in 2015.
Shi is now working on a feature film.
“I think one of the great things about being able to make ‘Bao’ is I got to do a lot more research and really dive into my heritage,” she said backstage.
“I kind of took it for granted. Like, I took my mom making dumplings for granted when I was growing up. She would just pop them out so quickly.”
Canadian sound engineer Paul Massey also won his first Oscar for his work on “Bohemian Rhapsody.” He won the trophy alongside Tim Cavagin and John Casali in the best sound mixing category.
Massey thanked his kids, as well as the film’s producers, sound crew and members of rock band Queen, who are the subject of the film.
“A massive shout-out to Brian May and Roger Taylor,” Massey said. ”Thank you so much for your music and for your collaboration and your support.”
He later told reporters it was a “project of a lifetime,” noting May and Taylor allowed the team “into their family.”
“They told us stories about Freddie (Mercury),” Massey said of the Queen frontman, who died in 1991. ”The engineers that they worked with gave us full access to their archives of music, all their live material, all their studio material.”
The team “learned so much about Freddie that’s not in the film as well and some of their personal stories,” he added.
“It was just a joy to be part of that team. And actually, I think we all wished it hadn’t finished.”
It was the eighth Oscar nomination for Massey, who was born in England but early in his career lived in Toronto for 13 years before moving to Los Angeles.
His other nominations include the films “The Martian” by Ridley Scott, with whom he’s worked on several projects, “3:10 to Yuma,” “Walk the Line” and “Legends of the Fall.”
Massey won in a category that also included Canadian sound mixer Craig Henighan for “Roma.”
A few other Canadians were nominated but lost at the show, which didn’t have a host for the first time in 30 years.
Canadian set decorator Gordon Sim of St. Thomas, Ont., was nominated for “Mary Poppins Returns.”
And the live action short film category had two finalists from Montreal — Jeremy Comte for “Fauve” and Marianne Farley for “Marguerite.”
The show also featured two Toronto-raised presenters — Mike Myers and Stephan James.
Myers, who plays a record executive in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” did a ”Wayne’s World” bit with Dana Carvey onstage as they presented the film as a best-picture nominee.
“Wayne’s World” features a famous scene in which the duo’s rock-worshipping characters sing “Bohemian Rhapsody” in their car.
“‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ played a large part in the success of ‘Wayne’s World,’” said Myers, wearing his Order of Canada pin.
“We’re humbled to be associated with that brilliant song.”
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press