At at a time clouded by hate and by othering, the news of Chloe Zhao being the first Asian woman to win best director at the Golden Globes, brings hope. Against the backdrop of furore towards the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes, Chloe’s appearance at the award shone like never before. Although the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is only beginning their strive to reach full diversity, Zhao’s win will certainly inspire previously unnoticed artists to pursue their dreams. Let it be with tears or applause, this is a milestone in film history we should celebrate.
Often at award ceremonies as grand as the Golden Globes, the focus is on the endpoints of the artist’s arduous journey. Zhao was born in Beijing, China, and fell in love with Western pop culture from a young age. After attending boarding school in London she moved to Los Angeles to finish high-school and later earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. After graduating from college, Chloe worked as a bartender, in real estate, and as a party promoter before pursuing a film degree at New York University Tisch School of the Arts. She was nomadic in society, like the characters of her new film, before finding her true passion which took her to the front page of newspapers and the hearts of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Her brilliant docu-fiction Nomadland, won both best director and best film at the Golden Globes and will likely go on to success at The Oscars too. Her journey through the film industry to get to this point is equally praiseworthy. In 2010, she won Best Student Live Action Short at the Palm Springs International ShortFest and Special Jury at the Cinequest Film Festival with the short film Daughters. In 2015, her first feature film, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, capturing the soulful relationship between Lakota Sioux and his younger sister was nominated for Best First Feature at the 31st Independent Spirit awards. Following, in 2017, she directed a contemporary western drama, The Rider, which follows the persistent journey of a cowboy crippled by a near-fatal riding accident that ended his career. This was Zhao’s first experiment with non-professional actors. They lived on the set in which the film was shot, producing realistic and fluid performances in the film. She later implemented this idea in Nomadland.
To those creators disheartened by the lack of diversity in today’s media industry, Zhao is an inspiration to render those once impossible dreams into reality. As she said in an interview for the Golden Globes, “a first feels like a long time coming”. Perhaps ironically while Nomadland encapsulates wandering souls, it roots people in their destined paths.
Image: Vegafi via Wikimedia Commons