Erick Oh: How His Oscar-Nominated Animated Short ‘Opera’ Addresses Asian Hate Crime & Social Issues: “This Is Something We Are Experiencing Every Day”

For his Oscar-nominated animated short film, Opera, director Erick Oh wanted to create an animation that captured the essence of human history. The looping cycle style of animation was ideal for the story he wanted to tell, which Oh attributes to the cyclical nature of history.

Comprised of many small scenes interacting and playing out beside each other in a large pyramid structure, Opera is a large-scale reflection on the cyclical nature of humanity. In this nine-minute animation, the film plays out the history of a civilization, from beginning to gruesome end, only to repeat itself again and again.

Duality was a big factor in Oh’s decision-making process for the short film, which was shown conceptually with the two opposing sides of the pyramid. The left side, with warm, reddish colors stood opposed to the cool, bluish palette of the right side. “Left and right really stand for whatever is opposite to one another,” Oh explains. “It can be political perspective, or life and death or yin and yang. It could be anything.”

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While the artistic style is influenced by the famous Renaissance painters, the story is based on the darker side of history, as well as the current state of the world. “This is something we are experiencing every day,” says Oh. “Asian hate crime is one of the biggest social issues in America.” True to his view of our current world, Oh has blended his exposure of social issues with a view of hope and beauty. “[Opera] conveys a lot of social issues, including racism, religious conflict, political conflicts or terrorism, but it also talks about celebrating the beauty of life. There is a newborn child and many other beautiful things too.”

Opera isn’t just a reflection of America. “My friends in France,” says Oh, “were like ‘Hey Erick, this is what’s happening in Paris.’ And then my friends over here, ‘This is so America.’ And my Korean friends and my Japanese friends are all saying the same thing.” His goal was to capture what’s really happening “underneath”, which resonates with people from every culture. “It’s really everyone’s reflection,” Oh explains. “It’s almost like a putting a mirror to ourselves and it makes us think, are we really learning from the past?”


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