Vanity Fair: Chloé Zhao Becomes First Woman of Color to Win Best Director at Oscars 2021

Originally posted by Vanity Fair.

Yohanna Desta

Yohana Desta is a Hollywood writer for

The Nomadland director is only the second woman to win the award in Oscar history.

Chloé Zhao made history at Sunday night’s Academy Awards, becoming the first woman of color to pick up the statuette for best director in Oscar history. Zhao, who helmed the poetic, magic-hour-draped drama Nomadland, is only the second woman to ever win the category.

She began her speech by thanking the Academy, as well as her fellow nominees, Emerald Fennell, David Fincher, Lee Isaac Chung, and Thomas Vinterberg.

“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. She recounted one of her childhood pastimes, recalling how she and her father used to play a game memorizing classic Chinese poems, then recite them to each other and try to finish each other’s sentences. One of her favorites, translated into English, went like this: “People at birth are inherently good.”

“Those six letters had such a great impact on me when I was a kid and I still truly believe them today, even though sometimes it may seem like the opposite is true,” Zhao said. “This is for anyone who had the faith and courage to hold on to the goodness in themselves. And to hold on to the goodness in each other…this is for you. You inspire me to keep going. Thank you. Thank you.”

Zhao is only the second woman to win the best-director statuette, following Kathryn Bigelow in 2010, for The Hurt Locker. Nomadland was an early favorite in the awards race, celebrated on the festival circuit for its rugged, naturalistic portrayal of the American West. The film, based on the eponymous nonfiction book by Jessica Bruder, stars Frances McDormand as Fern, a nomadic woman living out of her van, working a series of odd jobs out on the road. The film was nominated for six Oscars overall, including best actress and best picture.

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