Why ‘Dìdi’ Director Sean Wang Has Skateboarding Videos to Thank for His Filmmaking Career | Video

Director Sean Wang is an Oscar nominee as of Tuesday, albeit for his short film “Nai Nai & Wai Po,” (“Grandma and Grandma”). But with that and the premiere of his feature film debut, “Dìdi,” at the Sundance Film Festival, it’s important to remember that Wang almost didn’t become a filmmaker at all.

“When I think about cultural shame and being an Asian American boy during that time [the 2000s], we didn’t have the influences we have in culture today,” Wang said during an interview with TheWrap editor-in-chief Sharon Waxman at TheWrap’s Sundance Portrait and Interview Studio presented by NFP. “We had seen movies about what it feels like to be the one Asian American in a sea of white people.”

“Dìdi” is a semi-autobiograhical exploration of a teenage boy growing up in Fremont, California, in the 2000s. And, like a young Wang himself, the boy at the center of it is a skateboarder. “It’s semi-autobiographical but it’s not one to one,” Wang said. “I was a skater. I got into filmmaking through skateboarding, similar to our character.” Wang explained that he “wanted to tell a story about this boy and the different ways that shame manifests in an Asian American boy’s life at this time … and how that shame can keep him from accepting different versions of love.”

For Wang, that search for identity and love kept him from feeling like he had a place as a director, especially in his adolescent days. He said the thought never entered his mind to emulate filmmakers like Martin Scorsese or Steven Spielberg. “For me, it all led back to skating,” he said. Growing up in an era when cameras were starting to become more accessible, he started making skate videos for fun.

“It wasn’t for anyone, except me and my friends, and that was so fun. I did that for years and years,” he said. His eureka moment — the realization wherein he wanted to become a director — was discovered while watching a skateboard video that director Spike Jonze had made. “It was that idea of, I identified as a skater and I didn’t consider what I was doing to be filmmaking,” Wang said. It wasn’t until he watched Jonze’s video and felt emotional that he wanted to explore how a video could make anyone feel that way.

His work on “Dìdi” is also meant to make audiences feel something, specifically about the struggles of trying to find out who you are as a teenager. “What does it feel like to not fully belong in a place you feel you should belong?” Wang said. What does the lack of positive representation do? Wang recounted he was often was called the “whitest Asian” or “cute for an Asian” and wanted to unpack how that makes a teenager feel. “That was the hope of this movie, was to look back at this era … you don’t have the vocabulary to unpack that or dissect that [at 13].”

Watch the full interview with Wang above.

“Dìdi” is a sales title at Sundance.

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