- Golden Globe Awards
2021: Chloé Zhao Makes History
Nomadland filmmaker Chloé Zhao set all sorts of records one Golden Globe night, on February 28, 2021.
Zhao became the first Asian woman to win Best Director, and the first Asian woman producer to win Best Film – Drama. Additionally, Nomadland became the first film directed by a female to win Best Film – Drama.
Zhao also became the second woman ever to win the Best Director award in the 78-year history of the Golden Globes. The first was Barbra Streisand for Yentl in 1984. Additionally, Zhao received a nomination for Best Screenplay while her lead, Frances McDormand, earned a nod for Best Actress – Drama.
The soft-spoken, Beijing-born director, 39 years old at the time, accepted her awards from her home as part of the virtual 78th Golden Globe Awards ceremony. For health and safety reasons due to spiking COVID cases, the “Party of the Year” was a hybrid event that year.
In a Zoom interview with Rappler.com in 2021, the talented auteur looked back at her historic triumphs: “Sometimes a first feels like a long time coming, isn’t it? You feel like it is about time.”
She continued, “I am sure there are many others before me who deserve the same recognition. I just love what I do. If this means more people like me get to live their dream and get to do what I do, I’m happy.”
Zhao wrote, directed, edited, and produced Nomadland, which was based on the 2017 nonfiction book “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century” by Jessica Bruder. At a Venice Film Festival press conference in 2020, Zhao said, “This is my third time going to a community that’s not my own and trying to convince people to share their lives.”
“I find talking about politics is not the way in, so that’s not my natural instinct to do that. It’s a bit more like talking about things that can relate us instead of things that can potentially divide us, so I have not done a lot of political conversations with the nomads.”
Zhao’s first feature film, Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015), was shot at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Her next feature, The Rider (2017), engaged non-actors who lived at the filming location — in this case Bonanza Creek Ranch, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Asked what draws her to the frontier and the road, the calm and collected Zhao said in that Venice press conference, “I think I was in my late twenties and I was feeling a little lost. And historically, when people feel lost, they go West, and that’s what I did.
“Growing up in Beijing, I would always fantasize about Mongolia and the plains. And I think being in New York, that’s what South Dakota was to me.”
Zhao, who studied at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts under director Spike Lee, was asked how she visually approaches her films, and about her deep relationship with nature.
She replied, “If you spend time with nomads, at some point we’re going to be talking about rocks. We’re going to talk about where the sun comes up, because that’s where they’re going to tilt their solar panel. And we’re going to talk about mountains.
“I think we lost a little bit of that, living in the concrete jungle of the city. And now, I think, more than ever, we understand as a people that nature heals.”