IndianAmerican Film Director Garners Academy Award Nomination18 Feb 2016
The list of Academy Award nominees this year generated a great deal of controversy for what many consider a patent lack of diversity. One contender for the year’s Best Animated Short film, “Sanjay’s Super Team,” and the ethnically diverse team that created it, represent a broader range of perspectives from the filmmakers it honors.
This seven-minute short film from Pixar focuses on a young IndianAmerican boy with a love for superhero cartoons who struggles to connect with his father – a man who prefers that his son instead focus on meditation and an appreciation for the traditional Hindu gods. It was directed by first generation IndianAmerican Sanjay Patel, who enlisted the help of a female producer and a diverse crew to bring his vision to life.
Patel, who has worked for Pixar for almost twenty years as an animator and designer, was initially reluctant when asked by management to develop a concept for a short film. “There was not one iota in my body that wanted to be a director,” Patel recently reflected in an interview with The New York Times. “I’m an introvert. I really like hiding away in my room drawing all by myself.” It was Patel’s father who initially encouraged his son to at least try to please his long time employer, and his idea for the short attracted the attention of producer Nicole Grindle, who immediately recognized his talent. “Sanjay’s more comfortable working alone, but he’s also a passionate artist who had a story to tell and wanted to make sure he got it right,” she told The New York Times. Mr. Patel wanted the film to reflect the “universal experience of a father wanting his son to appreciate things that are old and a child enamored of things that are new.” The film concludes with the son realizing that the superheroes in his cartoons and the deities his father reveres share many of the same attributes, and he develops a newfound admiration for his father.
“Sanjay’s Super Team” has been warmly received by critics since its November release, giving the first time director a newfound confidence to share with the world his unique viewpoint as a first generation American. “Now, I can talk about how awkward and ashamed I felt about my identity and my skin color and my parents’ culture. Those things were very scary because they were outside the mainstream.” And while Mr. Patel hopes his film will help to usher in a more diverse style of filmmaking to the movie industry, he finds it just as gratifying that it has helped him form a connection to his own Indian-born father, despite generational and cultural differences. “My father had … never seen a Pixar movie. But he was proud that I’d created a story between him and me and the idea of a compromise between somebody from this world and somebody from his world.” [See A Diverse Pixar Crew Grabs an Oscar Nomination, by Charles Solomon, The New York Times, 8.Feb.2016.]
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