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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Chloe Zhao Is the First Woman of Colour and Second Woman Ever to Win the Best Director Oscar

She won for 'Nomadland' — and she made history.
By Sarah Ward
April 27, 2021
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By Sarah Ward
April 27, 2021
  shares

When an awards body has spent almost a century handing out high-profile gongs in a field that garners plenty of attention, it really should be past the point of smashing records and making history. But the Academy Awards hasn't been particularly inclusive or diverse over its 93-year run to-date — which is why 2021's big winner is still breaking boundaries.

When Chloé Zhao was nominated for this year's Best Director Oscar for Nomadland, she already achieved an immense feat. Only five female filmmakers had ever even made it to the awards ceremony in the coveted field before 2021, and she joined Promising Young Woman's Emerald Fennell among this year's candidates. This marked the first time ever that two women had received recognition in the same year in the category, too, because when it comes to realising that yes, women are filmmakers, the Academy's track record has been nothing short of abysmal.

Now, with the awards handed out and winners anointed, Zhao has become the first woman of colour to ever emerge victorious in the field. She's only the second woman to ever win as well. Zhao ended up with two awards, because Nomadland won Best Picture and she was one of the film's producers. But the importance of her win for Best Director really can't be understated.

Zhao joins The Hurt Locker's Kathryn Bigelow, who nabbed the prize in 2009, as the only two women who've ever scooped the field. And, with their nominations, both Zhao and Fennell joined Bigelow, Lina Wertmüller (for Seven Beauties), Jane Campion (for The Piano), Sofia Coppola (for Lost in Translation) and Greta Gerwig (for Lady Bird) as the only women to even get the chance to win Best Director on Hollywood's night of nights.

Director Chloé Zhao filming Nomadland. Image: Searchlight Pictures.

Nomadland is Zhao's third film, after 2015's Songs My Brothers Taught Me and 2017's The Rider — and viewers can already look forward to watching her fourth later this year. Her next movie will see the director head into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with Eternals focusing on an immortal alien race, and starring Angelina Jolie (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil), Kumail Nanjiani (Stuber), Salma Hayek (Like a Boss), Barry Keoghan (Calm with Horses), Gemma Chan (Captain Marvel), Brian Tyree Henry (Superintelligence) and Game of Thrones co-stars Richard Madden and Kit Harington. Zhao will be working on a far bigger scale than seen in her filmography so far; however, there's a sense of empathy and a knack for observation to her features that'll hopefully make the much-needed jump to superhero territory.

If you're wondering who else emerged victorious at this year's Oscars, the full list of nominees and winners in every category is below. You can also check out our in-depth overview of ten of this year's winners that are worth watching ASAP.

OSCAR NOMINEES AND WINNERS 2021

BEST MOTION PICTURE
The Father
Judas and the Black Messiah
Mank
Minari
Nomadland
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7

BEST DIRECTOR
Another Round, Thomas Vinterberg
Mank, David Fincher
Minari, Lee Isaac Chung
Nomadland, Chloé Zhao
Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell

PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Viola Davis, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Andra Day, The United States vs Billie Holiday
Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman
Frances McDormand, Nomadland
Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman

PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Anthony Hopkins, The Father
Gary Oldman, Mank
Steven Yeun, Minari

PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy
Olivia Colman, The Father
Amanda Seyfried, Mank
Yuh-Jung Youn, Minari

PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Sacha Baron Cohen, The Trial of the Chicago 7
Daniel Kaluuya, Judas and the Black Messiah
Leslie Odom Jr, One Night in Miami
Paul Raci, Sound of Metal
LaKeith Stanfield, Judas and the Black Messiah

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Judas and the Black Messiah, Will Berson, Shaka King, Will Berson, Kenny Lucas and Keith Lucas
Minari, Lee Isaac Chung
Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell
Sound of Metal, Darius Marder, Abraham Marder and Derek Cianfrance
The Trial of the Chicago 7, Aaron Sorkin

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman and Lee Kern
The Father, Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller
The Mauritanian, Rory Haines, Sohrab Noshirvani and MB Traven
Nomadland, Chloé Zhao
The White Tiger, Ramin Bahrani

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Da 5 Bloods, Terence Blanchard
Mank, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
Minari, Emile Mosseri
News of the World, James Newton Howard
Soul, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
'Fight For You', Judas and the Black Messiah (HER, Dernst Emile II and Tiara Thomas)
'Hear my Voice', The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Daniel Pemberton and Celeste Waite)
'Husavik', Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (Savan Kotecha, Fat Max Gsus and Rickard Göransson)
'Io Si (Seen)', The Life Ahead (Diane Warren and Laura Pausini)
'Speak Now', One Night in Miami (Leslie Odom, Jr and Sam Ashworth)

BEST FILM EDITING
The Father, Yorgos Lamprinos
Nomadland, Chloé Zhao
Promising Young Woman, Frédéric Thoraval
Sound of Metal, Mikkel EG Nielsen
The Trial of the Chicago 7, Alan Baumgarten

BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM
Another Round
Better Days
Collective
The Man Who Sold His Skin
Quo Vadis, Aida?

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Onward
Over the Moon
A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
Soul
Wolfwalkers

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Collective
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution
The Mole Agent
My Octopus Teacher
Time

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Judas and the Black Messiah, Sean Bobbitt
Mank, Erik Messerschmidt
News of the World, Dariusz Wolski
Nomadland, Joshua James Richards
The Trial of the Chicago 7, Phedon Papamichael

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
The Father, Peter Francis and Cathy Featherstone
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Mark Ricker, Karen O'Hara and Diana Stoughton
Mank, Donald Graham Burt and Jan Pascale
News of the World, David Crank and Elizabeth Keenan
Tenet, Nathan Crowley and Kathy Lucas

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Love and Monsters, Matt Sloan, Genevieve Camilleri, Matt Everitt and Brian Cox
The Midnight Sky, Matthew Kasmir, Christopher Lawrence, Max Solomon and David Watkins
Mulan, Sean Faden, Anders Langlands, Seth Maury and Steve Ingram
The One and Only Ivan, Santiago Colomo Martinez, Nick Davis, Greg Fisher
Tenet, Andrew Jackson, David Lee, Andrew Lockley and Scott Fisher

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Emma, Alexandra Byrne
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Ann Roth
Mank, Trish Summerville
Mulan, Bina Daigeler
Pinocchio, Massimo Cantini Parrini

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Emma, Marese Langan, Laura Allen and Claudia Stolze
Hillbilly Elegy, Eryn Krueger Mekash, Matthew Mungle and Patricia Dehaney
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson
Mank, Gigi Williams, Kimberley Spiteri and Colleen LaBaff
Pinocchio, Mark Coulier, Dalia Colli and Francesco Pegoretti

BEST SOUND
Greyhound, Warren Shaw, Michael Minkler, Beau Borders and David Wyman
Mank, Ren Klyce, Jeremy Molod, David Parker, Nathan Nance and Drew Kunin
News of the World, Oliver Tarney, Mike Prestwood Smith, William Miller and John Pritchett
Soul, Ren Klyce, Coya Elliott and David Parker
Sound of Metal, Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michelle Couttolenc, Carlos Cortés and Phillip Bladh

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
Colette
A Concerto is a Conversation
Do Not Split
Hunger Ward
A Love Song for Latasha

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
Burrow
Genius Loci
If Anything Happens I Love You
Opera
Yes-People

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
Feeling Through
The Letter Room
The Present
Two Distant Strangers
White Eye

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Top image: Frances McDormand and Chloé Zhao on the set of Nomadland. Image: Searchlight Pictures. © 2020, 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved

Published on April 27, 2021 by Sarah Ward

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