Chloé Zhao has changed the Oscars for the better after winning Best Director on Sunday night for Nomadland, her intimate portrait of itinerant Americans, starring Frances McDormand. The win makes Zhao the first Asian woman — or woman of color, in general — to win the award in the Oscars’ 93-year history. She’s also only the second woman to ever win, 11 years after Kathryn Bigelow won for The Hurt Locker.
Her historic win should be a celebration for people everywhere, but according to the New York Times, the Chinese government has already imposed censors online to keep discussion of Zhao’s win to a minimum. According to the report, Chinese social-media platforms are deleting articles and posts about the awards show and Zhao, forcing fans to use homonyms, symbols, and more to circumvent the censors. Commenters have blurred out both her name and the film’s title, written them backwards, flipped images, and added slashes between characters. According to the Times, reporters at state-controlled news outlets were told not to cover the Academy Awards. In an op-ed published entirely in English Monday afternoon in China, The Global Times, a Communist Party–run paper, urged Zhao to play a “mediating role” between China and the U.S. to “avoid being a friction point.” Nationalist backlash against Zhao began last month, after a 2013 article in which she criticizes China resurfaced online. “At a time we should be celebrating Chloé Zhao, who has talked about the influence of Chinese culture on her life, there are still some people who are anxious to disassociate themselves from her and her Chinese identity,” one Weibo user wrote in a since-deleted post. “I think this phenomenon is not good at all.”
Zhao made history for female directors alongside Promising Young Woman’s Emerald Fennell, who was nominated alongside Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round), David Fincher (Mank), and Lee Isaac Chung (Minari). Nomadland also won Best Picture and Best Actress for McDormand.
From here on out, Zhao’s work will be truly inescapable. She just completed Marvel’s The Eternals, starring Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Gemma Chan, and Kumail Nanjiani — and next, she’s taking on a sci-fi Western based on Dracula.