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Trailblazing director Chloé Zhao is the first woman of colour to win the best director Oscar

Chloé Zhao has become the first woman of color and second female ever to win the best director, Oscar, taking out the award for her role in the acclaimed film Nomadland. Zhao was born in Beijing before relocating to the UK and later the US and has spoken candidly about feeling like an outsider in Hollywood. “My life has been so transient and fast-moving. I’ve always been an outsider; I’m drawn to outsiders,” she told film-maker Alfonso Cuarón earlier this month.

After being recognized by the Golden Globes and Baftas, the Oscar award has consolidated Zhao’s domination of the best director category this season.

Nomadland is the third film she has directed and follows the success of Songs My Brother Taught Me in 2015 and The Rider in 2017.

Later this year, Zhao’s work is expected to be showcased again in the Marvel superhero film Eternals.

While receiving the award, presented virtually from Seoul by last year’s winner Bong Joon-ho, Zhao paid homage to her upbringing in China by acknowledging a game she played with her father, memorizing classic poems.

She told the audience that the memory came to her when she recently considered her career struggles and was struck by one phrase; “People at birth are entirely good.”

“Those six letters had such a big impact on me, and I still truly believe them even if it might seem the opposite,” she said in her acceptance speech.

Zhao’s award follows The Academy’s announcement of new rules for Best Picture nominees last year, shifting towards promoting more diversity in Hollywood.

Under the revised Best Picture initiative, any film submitted must adhere to the inclusion thresholds by meeting at least two of the four new standards.

The standards emphasized ensuring more opportunities for lead actors, those in secondary and minor roles from underrepresented cultural groups, and those in creative leadership positions and department heads.

The new standards also advocated increased training, apprenticeship, and internship opportunities for people from ethnic minority groups and heightened representation in storylines, marketing, and publicity.

Zhao’s triumph follows a long period where the Academy had notably failed to nominate works that exhibited diversity in the cast, directors, and technical craft.

The Hollywood Diversity Report, released in 2020, noted that there are still few examples of women and people of color leading big-budget films marketed to the broadest audience.

“The report finds that women directors and directors of color have overwhelmingly diverse productions; however, these films often have smaller budgets than those helmed by male and white directors.

So, in a year where more diverse productions were made more accessible to larger audiences through streaming services, the contrast is stark as to what types of films have the big budgets. There is clear underinvestment of films made by, written by, and led by women and people of color,” said Ana-Christina Ramon, the report’s co-author.

Before this year, only 40 people from ethnically diverse backgrounds had won an Oscar; twenty-seven were black winners, 11 were Latino, ten were Asian, and one was Hispanic American.

This year marked the first time in the Oscars’ 93-year history that two women were nominated in the best director category – with Zhao competing against Emerald Fennell, the British director of Promising Young Woman.

It also comes after the number of people of color nominated for an Oscar hit a three-year low in 2020.

Molly Aronson

I'm an award-winning blogger who enjoys all things creative but is especially passionate about lifestyle design. I blog over at mehlogy.com I love that I get to share my passion for healthy living, fashion, fitness, and travel with readers from all over the world.

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