So Chloe Zhao has made Hollywood history by being the first woman of colour (and only the second woman ever) to win best director award at the Oscars. She also won best picture for the same film.
The director was born in China, educated in the UK, and is now based in the US, and has made three feature-length films. All of them have been compelling movie portraits of people, often played by non-professional actors.
Her next film, however, is breaking this mould! She will be directing the Marvel Comics Universe film Eternals.
But who is Chloe Zhao?
One of the most distinctive filmmakers in the recent scene, Chloe Zhao was born in Beijing to an actress and steel executive. She paid homage to her lovely parents in the acceptance speech for her Oscar, saying:
“I’ve been thinking a lot lately of how I keep going when things get hard. I think it goes back to something I learned when I was a kid. When I was growing up in China, my Dad and I used to play this game. We would memorise classic Chinese poems and texts, and we would recite them together and try to finish each other’s sentences.
There’s one that I remember so dearly, it’s called the Three Character Classics. The first phrase goes… ‘People at birth are inherently good’.”
Zhao moved to England to study in Brighton when she was 14, in the mid-1990s, even though she spoke very little English. Her teachers remember her picking up the language ‘terribly quickly’, and always questioning why Britons did certain things. Chloe, however, remembers her time in Brighton as ‘being very emo’, feeling ‘a lot of teenage angst’.
After Brighton, Zhao moves to the US and studied political science in Massachusetts before moving to NYU to study graduate film. She started working on her first film, Songs My Brothers Taught Me. She then made her second film, The Rider.
The Rider was named 2017’s best film by the US National Society of Film Critics and BBC Radio 4’s Film Programme.
What is Nomadland?
In interviews, Chloe Zhao has spoken about feeling like an outsider. So she feels drawn to ‘people who live on the periphery, or don’t live mainstream lifestyles’. This is why she felt connected and drawn to the stories of vanlife, of people whose lives are transient, unpredictable, and free.
The idea for the film comes from the non-fiction book of the same name, written by Jessica Bruder. Some people were cast to play versions of themselves, all alongside the lead character Fern, a fictional role, played by Frances McDormand.
There has been some controversy around the film, however, with suggestions that both book and film gloss over the problems that surround working for Amazon.
What’s next for Chloe?
As we mentioned, Chloe will next be directing Eternals. The MCU film is about immortal superheroes played by Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Richard Madden and Kumal Nanjiani. The star-studded film is exciting for Chloe, who has been a fan of the universe for a while now.
She talked about the project, saying that she “put the word out there that [she] wanted to make a Marvel movie” and Eternals came to her.
Eternals comes out in November 2021.
Chloe Zhao will then be working on a futuristic, science fiction take on Dracula.