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Chloé Zhao has made Oscars history.
The 39-year-old filmmaker is the first Asian-American woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director, taking home a golden statuette for “Nomadland” Sunday.
“My entire ‘Nomadland’ company what a crazy once-in-a-lifetime we’ve been on together. I’m so grateful to you,” she said from LA’s Union Station.
“I’ve been thinking a lot lately of how I keep going where things get hard and I think it goes back to something I learned when I was a kid when I was growing up in China with Dad and I would play this game,” she said and began to recite a poem she learned as a child in Chinese.
“People at birth are entirely good,” she said. “Even though sometimes it might seem like the opposite is true, but I have always found goodness in the people I’ve met everywhere I went in the world.”
She held up her Oscar and said: “This is for anyone who has the faith and courage to hold onto the goodness in themselves and to hold onto the goodness in each other, no matter how difficult it is to do that.”
Zhao scored a nomination alongside Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”), David Fincher (“Mank”), Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”) and Thomas Vinterberg (“Another Round”).
“Nomadland” was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Film Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay.
The Frances McDormand-fronted drama also won big at the Golden Globe Awards earlier this year. The movie earned a nod for best screenplay and received awards for best director and best motion picture — drama, making Zhao not only the first Asian-American woman to win the Globe for best director but also the second woman ever to win for directing. Zhao follows in the footsteps of Barbra Streisand, who was the first female to score the best director Globe in 1984 for “Yentl.”
“I think the understanding and trying to see the world from the other person’s perspective is the only way we can survive as a species,” Zhao said in her speech. “Now this is why 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 from each other and to have more compassion for each other.”
The Chinese-born writer/director added, “So thank you everyone who made it possible to do what I love.”
Zhao’s win is also a momentous one as this year’s Oscar lineup is the first to include two female directors. Until now, only five women had been recognized in the category. Lina Wertmüller was the first woman to receive a nomination for “Seven Beauties” in 1977. Kathryn Bigelow was the only woman to ever win the Best Director Oscar for her work in 2009’s “The Hurt Locker.”
The Oscar nominations for Chung, 42, and Zhao also make this year the first time that two directors of Asian descent have faced off. There have only been five Asian nominees that have come before them, starting with Hiroshi Teshigahara’s 1966 film “Woman in the Dunes.” Zhao is the third Asian-American to win the award, after Ang Lee and Bong Joon-ho’s wins. Lee won in 2006 for “Brokeback Mountain” and for “Life of Pi” in 2013. Joon-ho received awards in 2020 for “Parasite.”
Other recent champs in this category are Alfonso Cuarón for his 2019 Netflix drama “Roma,” Guillermo del Toro for “The Shape of Water” in 2018 and Damien Chazelle for “La La Land” in 2017.
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