Award-Winning Film Censored by Chinese Media After Director’s Past Comments Unearthed: ‘There Are Lies Everywhere’

March 9, 2021 Updated: March 10, 2021

U.S. road film “Nomadland” topped the prizes at the 26th Critics’ Choice Awards on March 7, paving its way for the 2021 Oscars. However, hashtags of the film vanished on Chinese social media platforms.

Days after its Beijing-born director, Chloe Zhao (also known as Zhao Ting), won the Best Director at the Golden Globe Awards on March 1, her past comments were exposed online by netizens, miring the history-making moment into controversy in China.

“It goes back to when I was a teenager in China, being in a place where there are lies everywhere,” she told Filmmaker Magazine during an interview in 2013, explaining her sudden departure to England for study at the age of 15, “to figure out what is real.”

This led to “Nomadland” becoming subject to strict censorship in China.

On Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, the search result for “Nomadland” in Chinese turns out nothing.

On March 5, Chinese netizens found the official movie posters and release date for the film were wiped off Douban, a Chinese social networking site.

The film premiered and won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival on Sept. 11, 2020. It was scheduled to be released in China on April 23, according to Chinese state media.

‘Pride of China’ to ‘Traitor’

Zhao is the second woman and the first Asian woman to win the Golden Globe Awards.

The first female winner of the prize in 1984, Barbra Streisand, posted a tweet congratulating Zhao on March 1.

Zhao was initially a highly complimented Chinese director by Chinese state media. The Global Times, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, praised Zhao as “the pride of China” in one headline.

Zhao’s stepmother, Chinese comedian Song Dandan also wrote on Weibo: “You are the legend of our family. I believe your story will also inspire countless Chinese children.”

But after netizens in mainland China unearthed her criticism of China made eight years ago and reacted angrily, media coverage quickly turned.

Weibo users called her a “China insulter,” “traitor,” “two-faced,” and some called for a boycott of “Nomadland.”

But one Weibo netizen questioned: “I’m very curious about how the words ‘insult’ and ‘China’ are defined by netizens.”

“Is it a completely nonsensical insult, or is it a well-documented criticism? ‘Insulting’ this land? Or ‘insulting’ all the people of this country? Or ‘insulting’ the ruling political party of this country? Or ‘insulting’ the government of this country?” he wrote.

Chinese authorities have not confirmed whether “Nomadland” will be released in China.