Chloé Zhao
Chloé Zhao (Photo: Chris Pizzello-Pool/Getty Images)

Chloé Zhao has won the Oscar for directing Nomadland at the 93rd annual Academy Awards, becoming the first woman of colour to win the award and the second woman to win (Katheryn Bigelow, was the first). Zhao was also the first woman to get four Oscar nominations in a single year, in the Best Film Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture categories. Nomadland is about a widow in her 60s (Frances McDormand) who travels the Western United States in a van after losing her job in the Great Recession. 

“I have been thinking a lot lately of how I keep going when things get hard,” she said onstage during her speech. “And I think it goes back to something I learned when I was a kid. When I was growing up in China, my dad and I used to play this game. We would memorise classic Chinese poems and texts, and we would recite it together and try to finish each other’s sentences.” Variety reports Zhao was inspired by the phrase “人之初,性本善,” which comes from the foundational Chinese text “The Three Character Classic” and translates to: “People, at birth, are inherently good.” “Those six letters had such a great impact on me when I was a kid,” Zhao continued. “And I still truly believe them today, even though sometimes it may seem like the opposite is true. But I have always found goodness in the people I met — everywhere I went in the world.”

As CNN notes:Zhao being celebrated as an auteur during a time of rising anti-Asian hate is also noteworthy. In the US, almost 3,800 hate incidents were reported between March 2020 and the end of February 2021, according to the organisation, Stop AAPI Hate. While her accolades, of course, cannot erase anti-Asian racism, by winning the Oscar for Best Director she will garner more influence and visibility for the Asian community in the US movie industry that has long marginalised it.”

Nomadland is the 39-year-old Zhao’s third feature film, following 2015’s drama Songs My Brothers Taught Me and 2017’s Western The Rider. Her next movie is Marvel’s superhero epic Eternals, which is due in theatres this November.