Chloé Zhao Is The First Woman Of Color To Win Best Director At The Oscars

In her winning speech, the 'Nomadland' director opened up about her childhood

By Deepa Lakshmin

At the insistence of Bong Joon-ho — whose Parasite swept the Oscars last year with four wins — the five visionaries nominated for this year’s Academy Award for Best Directing had one not-so-simple task ahead of the 2021 show Sunday night (April 25) at Los Angeles’s Union Station. They had to answer the question: “If you have to explain to a random kid on the street what directing is in 20 seconds, what would you say?”

For Chloé Zhao, it’s about “shedding the skin of who we think we are and walking in another person’s shoes.” Her Nomadland, which landed her the Oscar for Best Director and features real-life nomads, does exactly that. It gives you a look at what it’s like to live a lifestyle on the road where you’re not homeless, exactly, but “houseless,” as the film’s trailer touts.

It’s a historic win. Zhao is the first woman of color and the second woman ever to take home the Academy Award for Best Directing, beating out Another Round’s Thomas Vinterberg, Mank’s David Fincher, Minari’s Lee Isaac Chung, and Promising Young Woman’s Emerald Fennell at the 93rd annual ceremony. Nomadland itself was nominated for six awards, making it a must-see movie of the awards season. (FYI: It’s streaming now on Hulu.)

“I’ve been thinking a lot lately of how I keep going when things get hard, and I think it goes back to something I learned when I was a kid,” Zhao said in her winning speech. “When I was growing up in China, my dad and I used to play this game. We would memorize classic Chinese poems and texts, and we would recite it together and try to finish each other’s sentences. There’s one that I remember so dearly." It's called "The Three Character Classic."

ABC/Getty Images

Chloe Zhao

She went on to share a phrase that’s stuck with her for decades thanks to this game: “People at birth are inherently good… Sometimes, it may seem like the opposite is true, but I have always found goodness in the people I’ve met everywhere I went in the world.”

Because of this, she dedicated her award to “anyone who has the faith and the courage to hold on to the goodness in themselves” and “the goodness in each other, no matter how difficult it is to do that... This is for you, you inspire me to keep going.”

Find all the 2021 Oscar winners right here.

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