Director spotlight: Chloé Zhao


On February 28th, 2021, filmmaker Chloé Zhao made history when she won the Golden Globe for Best Director for her third feature-length film. Nomadland, which follows a woman in her sixties travelling across the USA in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, living out of her van and discovering a nomadic way of life, was nominated for three awards at this year’s Golden Globes. 

In a male-dominated industry, the main categories are traditionally awarded to male directors, and the Golden Globes are no exception. Unprecedented success in winning the title of Best Director made Zhao, who grew up in Beijing before moving to the USA, the first Asian woman and the second woman ever to win the award. Nomadland also took the title of Best Motion Picture (Drama) and received a nomination for Best Screenplay. 

To give perspective to the magnitude of her success, it has been thirty-seven years since a woman was last named Best Director at the Golden Globes, with Barbara Streisand becoming the first female recipient in 1984 for her film Yentl. In the seventy-eight years since the Golden Globes began, only eight women have been nominated for the category, three of which – Chloé Zhao, Emerald Fennell and Regina King – were all nominated for the 2021 awards season. 

It’s no wonder she’s bound to succeed at the Oscars and the Academy Awards later this year.

As if that isn’t enough of a success story, Chloé Zhao’s achievements don’t stop there. She was recently named by Vanity as the most awarded filmmaker in a single season, having won over fifty awards in the last year alone for directing, her screenplays, and editing. Some of her recent wins include a Golden Lion for Best Motion Picture (Drama) at the Venice Film Festival and the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. Zhao’s achievements are remarkable in themselves, but even more so in light of the historic lack of recognition of female directors’ talents and triumphs, particularly those of female directors who are also women of colour. 

It doesn’t seem like Zhao’s clean sweep of this season’s awards will be slowing down any time soon either. On Tuesday, it was announced she had received further nominations for her work on Nomadland, including the Best Director category at the BAFTA Awards, as well as for Outstanding Directorial Achievement by the Director’s Guild, a further award that has seen just 8 other female nominees, despite being in its seventy-third year. It’s no wonder she’s bound to succeed at the Oscars and the Academy Awards later this year.

[Chloe Zhao] has received great critical acclaim for the unique perspectives she presents through her writing and directing style.

Recently, Zhao has made her first foray away from independent films, taking on the role of director for The Eternals for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the highest-grossing film franchise of all time, as of November 2020. As one of a handful of female directors for Marvel studios, which only released its first film directed by a woman in 2019, Chloé Zhao not only adds more incredible achievements to her ever-growing list but continues breaking down barriers for women in the directing world. 

Although her most recent film has been her most successful, Zhao’s two previous films Songs My Brothers Taught Me and The Rider were each nominated for multiple awards, and the latter was chosen by Barack Obama as one of his favourite films of 2018. She has received great critical acclaim for the unique perspectives she presents through her writing and directing style. Both of her two previous films were low budget, the second of which she self-financed for $80,000. All of her films were filmed on location in the American Midwest and feature real-life people who play fictionalised versions of themselves. Zhao’s approach to casting is unique, taking the time to speak with the non-actors she features in her films and learning to understand the world through their eyes, which allows her to present a heartfelt and nuanced merging of fiction with real people’s lives on the big screen. 

A shining star who has achieved extraordinary things in her career so far, Chloé Zhao looks set to receive many more awards for her work in the future, and her career is definitely one to watch. 

Image: Vegafi via Wikimedia Commons

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