Disney has debuted six live-action shorts on Disney+ as part of the company’s Launchpad program. All six films fall under the theme “Discover” and Dinner Is Served embraces this theme by telling the story of an immigrant student who learns the cultures and costumes of his new home without shedding the traditions from his home country. The director recently spoke about embracing identity and how a special moment in his film can inspire others to do so.
Dinner Is Served takes place at an elite U.S.boarding school where a Chinese student realizes excellence is not enough when he tries out for a leadership position that no international student has ever applied for. The film is a beautiful anecdote on learning what drives a person’s decisions and staying true to yourself in that process. I sat down with director Hao Zheng for an interview with CinemaBlend and he shared the following about embracing one’s identity:
That's a very common struggle for a lot of us who were born or raised in another country, in another culture and then move to the U.S. In the beginning, you wanted to fit in, you wanted to assimilate. And throughout that process, you wanted to kind of, you know, you started to see the differences and then you wanted to erase the differences, and then, you don't want people to feel that you're different, but then there is always a moment that you will realize this, that, that's just part of you and that's part of your identity and what are you going to do next? Right? Are you going to pretend that that doesn't exist or are you going to finally embrace it? So in my film, obviously the guy choses, you know, the latter, which is embracing the true self, but then I think that really needs a lot of courage. Right? And that really, it kind of needs a very strong action, which in this case, he uses this song almost as a rebel, to own his own voice.
A need to fit in as Hao Zheng describes is something most of us are all too familiar with, especially in school. In Dinner Is Served, Xiaoyu wants to audition for a Maitre D’ position. Because the role requires students to present a monologue (including a welcome and various menu items) to a group and remember the names of every guest to address them properly, it was not previously attempted by international students. Determined to succeed despite his accent and pronunciation, Xiaoyu gives it his all but still gets made fun of by others in the room.
Instead of allowing his mispronunciation to stop him or make him flee from the unwanted attention of the room, Xiaoyu belts out a song in his native tongue. As director Hao Zheng mentioned, this moment is rebellious as it’s certainly out of the norm for a Maitre D’ to sing, but it’s also a statement from the character essentially saying, “This is who I am and this is what I sound like, and I’m proud of it.” He fully embraces who he is and decides being true to himself is more important than fitting in.