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Chloe Zhao's historical Golden Globes win

By Evelyn Shue, Rachel Wang, Lucy Wu

On Feb. 28, Chloé Zhao made history by becoming the second woman and first Asian woman to win best director for her film Nomadland at the 78th annual Golden Globes Awards.

Nomadland, a film that also won the award for best drama, stars Frances McDormand as a woman named Fern who journeys across the United States as a modern-day nomad. The indie drama received universal praise for its intimate portrayal of nomadic lifestyles in a quietly powerful screenplay. Nomadland is Zhao’s third film production, following Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015) and The Rider (2017).

In her award acceptance speech, Zhao expressed her profound gratitude towards the Nomadland team, her family, and the nomads for sharing their stories in the film. “I fell in love with making movies and telling stories -- because it gives us a chance to laugh and cry together, and it gives us a chance to learn together and to have more compassion for each other,” Zhao said.

(Photo from

Growing Up

Zhao was born in Beijing in 1982. Her parents were the manager of a steel company and a hospital worker. When she was 15 years old, despite knowing nearly no English, her parents sent her to a boarding school in London and later earned a bachelor's degree in political science at Massachusetts’ Mount Holyoke College. Following that, Zhao also studied film production at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Growing up, film had a continuous impact on Zhao. Her parents separated and her father later remarried to a famous Chinese actress, Song Dandan, in 1997. Zhao also cites Wong Kar-wai's romance Happy Together (1997) as the "film that made me want to make films".

(Photo from filmafinity)

Looking Forward

Many praise Zhao for being an inspiration to both Asians and women everywhere. Witnessing female and Asian excellence is especially empowering to students that share those identities.

As for the future, a new Marvel movie Eternals, directed by Zhao, is set to be released in Nov. 2021. But overall, Zhao says that she isn’t looking to commit to big-budget projects and is willing to produce films on a low budget if the “right story presents itself.” Intimate, candid storytelling is the key component of her filmmaking. “By being authentically who you are, you might be a little slower in becoming successful, but you’re going to be slowly gathering people who are your tribe, your kinda folks,” Zhao said.

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