Chloe Zhao’s Family Silent After Oscar Win

By Sherry Qi
Sherry Qi
Sherry Qi
Sherry Qi is the deputy editor-in-chief of New Era Magazine. She has been following the officialdom of the Chinese Communist Party for more than ten years and has published dozens of books on current affairs and economics that reveal their secrets.
May 3, 2021Updated: May 3, 2021

On April 25, “Nomadland” won the Oscar for best picture. The film’s director, Chloe Zhao, won the best director award, becoming the first Asian woman to win this award.

Zhao’s previous works include “Songs My Brothers Taught Me” (2015) and “The Rider” (2017), both of which were selected for the Cannes Film Festival in France. She is regarded as the most high-profile emerging female director in recent years and was picked up by Marvel to direct its new film “Eternals.”

“Nomadland” also brought Zhao Best Director awards at the Golden Globe Awards, the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, and the Directors Guild of America Awards, as well as nearly 40 other awards and titles worldwide. Growing up in Beijing, Zhao has undoubtedly brought honor to the Chinese people even if she has also become a taboo for the CCP.

Zhao’s stepmother’s silence

Zhao, 38, was born in Beijing. Her father, Zhao Yuji, was the former general manager and vice chairman of Shougang Group. Her mother, Huang Tao, works in a hospital, and her stepmother is famous Chinese comedian Song Dandan.

Each time Zhao won an award in the past, Song Dandan congratulated her “little darling” on Weibo, praising her for excelling over western people in their home court and hoping her success would inspire Chinese children. This time, although Zhao won the supreme honor of Oscar, Song did not publicly say a word.

“Song Dandan, let me congratulate Zhao Ting (Chloe’s Chinese name) for you this time,” said Cow Chan, a Hong Kong We Media person who calls herself “an artistic and cynical youth.”

“Song Dandan couldn’t say it publicly. Let me, a humble person, do it for her–but I don’t know how long Hong Kong people will have this freedom. After all, the live broadcast of the Oscars has become a taboo in Hong Kong today,” Chan said.

“Zhao Ting, congratulations. You will always be a ‘legend’ in your stepmother’s mind, even if it’s an unmentionable legend, even if you have lost the market of over a billion people because of your sincerity and frankness.”

CCP official media silent, related information blocked online

News of Zhao’s Oscar win was not immediately reported by any of the CCP’s main official media outlets. The broadcast of the Oscar ceremony was shut out in Hong Kong and mainland China. People were not allowed to even privately supporting Zhao.

On the day Zhao won, her NYU alumni broadcast the ceremony live from a small bar on the Bund in Shanghai, but it was also blocked by China’s Great Firewall. The event organizer’s virtual private network (VPN) service was blocked for nearly two hours.

On March 1, the day Zhao won the best director award at the Golden Globes, China’s official media Global Times, an English-language newspaper, immediately ran an article titled “China’s Pride,” congratulating Zhao on her win. But the next day, it published another article titled “Chinese or American? Chinese netizens question the nationality of Golden Globe-winning director Chloe Zhao” to minimize the impact of her win.

All of these actions are the CCP’s response to Zhao’s “remarks insulting China” made in 2013.

So what remarks insulting China did Zhao make? She said in an interview to Filmmaker magazine in 2013, “It goes back to when I was a teenager in China, being in a place where there are lies everywhere.”

“A lot of info I received when I was younger was not true, and I became very rebellious toward my family and my background. I went to England suddenly and relearned my history. Studying political science in a liberal arts college was a way for me to figure out what is real. Arm yourself with information, and then challenge that too.”

Acceptance speech

In her acceptance speech, Zhao read a line from the Three Character Classic in Chinese and English that says, “Men at their birth are naturally good.” She stressed that she still believes this to be true.

“I still truly believe them today, even though sometimes it might seem like the opposite is true, but I have always found goodness in the people I met everywhere I went in the world. So this is for anyone who has the faith and the courage to hold on to the goodness in themselves. And to hold on to the goodness in each other, no matter how difficult it is to do that,” Zhao said.

“Nomadland” is Zhao’s third feature film. She directed, wrote, produced, and edited the film, which tells the story of a woman who, after her husband’s death, sells all her belongings and leaves her small town to travel through the American Midwest. During the trip, she meets a lot of people, experiences different emotional entanglements, and yet, in the suffering sees the goodness of human nature.

It’s impossible for China to be seen as Zhao’s home court because the CCP decides what films are allowed to be made in China. It can only be the CCP’s home court.

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