Chloé Zhao has made history at the 2021 Academy Awards, becoming the first Asian woman to win best director and just the second woman to win the award.
Zhao won the directing Oscar for “ Nomadland,” joining Kathryn Bigelow, who won in 2009 for “The Hurt Locker.”
“I’m extremely lucky to be able to do what I love for a living,“ she said backstage. “This win means more people get to live their dreams. I’m extremely grateful.”
Zhao’s film—starring Frances McDormand—tells a story about a woman in her 60s and other transient workers in the American West.
The film won best picture and McDormand took home the award for best actress.
Zhao thanked her entire cast and crew. She called the process of creating the project a “once-in-a lifetime journey we’ve all been on together.”
It was the first Oscar for the 39-year-old Zhao, who was born in Beijing and went to college and film school in the United States. “Nomadland” was her third feature.
“Nomadland” also won Best Picture, while McDormand won Best Actress for the third time in her career.
Despite Zhao’s history-making night, her success has not yet been recognized by her birth country of China. She has been met with muted response, and state media in China had not celebrated her win by late Monday morning, with CCTV and Xinhua, the two main state media not posting her win.
China’s ruling Communist Party has been playing down Zhao’s success due to the director’s past comments that were critical of the regime.
A post announcing Zhao’s directing win by film magazine Watch Movies, which has over 14 million followers on the ubiquitous Weibo microblog, was censored a few hours after it appeared.
During her acceptance speech, Zhao said she was also inspired by a phrase that comes from a Chinese text “The Three Character Classic,” which she said translated to “People at birth are inherently good.” She said that phrase had a major impact on her as a kid, as she still stands firm on the words.
“I still truly believe them today, even though sometimes it may seem like the opposite is true,” she said. “But I have always found goodness in the people I met, everywhere I went in the world.”
The other nominees were Lee Isaac Chung for “Minari,” Thomas Vinterberg for “Another Round,” and David Fincher for “Mank.”