Chloe Zhao Holds the Title As the First Women of Color to Win Best Director at the Oscars


Photo by Harald Müller on Unsplash

Olivia Rhee, Feature Editor

Applause erupted throughout the Los Angeles Union Station as Chloe Zhao humbly accepted the Oscar award for best director for her hit film “Nomadland.” Feeling both astonishment and gratitude, Zhao descended the grand staircase, dressed in white sneakers, an elegant Hermes dress, complete with her signature braids. Hollywood’s legendary and emerging icons cheered her on for her excellent film, which later that evening won best overall picture. Zhao set a precedent at the Oscars Monday night, April 25, as she now holds the title of the first woman of color to receive an Oscar in the best director category.

Although past Academy Award ceremonies tended to disregard women and people of color, many see Zhao’s achievement as an introduction to more diversity in the predominantly white film industry. “In a way, Chloe Zhao validates the work of other Asian female directors and shows the film industry and other Asian women that they can succeed in the competitive world of directing. Hopefully, her achievement does not go down in history as a one-off event,” junior Isabelle Bennette said. As an Asian-American, Zhao’s accomplishment also reflects a positive light on the racial hate that demeans Asians. “Right now, the Asian communities in the United States have been misrepresented because of the coronavirus pandemic. Seeing Asian representation in filmmaking helps to change the course of this misrepresentation in an enormous awards show like the Oscars,” junior Tom Inouye said. 

Positively responding to her achievement, members of the Asian Student Union (ASU) see her journey as an inspiration for Asian students. “I think Chloe Zhao’s Oscar for best director marks a critical achievement for the Asian and other minority communities. After intolerable and exponential violence and hatred of the Asian community in the past year, her Oscar win will influence other Asian Americans to be a larger part in society and hopefully the American people will come to appreciate Asian American contributions and culture more often,” ASU Treasurer and junior Clemens Van Dongen said. 

While the Oscars seemed to incorporate more Asian representation in recent years, with both Awkwafina winning best actress and “Parasite” winning best picture last year, students hope this trend will continue. “I hope that Zhao’s achievement indicates a shift towards more representation of racial minority groups in the media. Asian stories deserve to be told through films, and Zhao’s win empowers other Asians to tell the stories that they want to tell,” Inouye said.

In addition to her achievement as an Asian-American, Zhao became one of the few women recognized in the best director category. Noting the depreciation of women in the film industry, Inouye notes, “Chloe Zhao’s nomination underscores the fact that she is one of the only female filmmakers to ever be recognized in the director category, showing that women are critically underrepresented in the film industry.” Over the ninety-three years of hosting the Oscars, only five female filmmakers have held nominations in this category. Although the Oscars tend to lack female representation, the 2021 Oscars highlighted more women in the film industry and became the first year where two women, Chloe Zhao and Emerald Fennell, were nominated for best director. 

In her powerful acceptance speech, Zhao shared with her audience some advice that has helped her endure challenging times. Recalling some precious childhood moments, Zhao noted that her father and her would often play a game in which they recited poems. The proverb “People at birth are inherently good” stuck with Zhao, allowing her to “always [find] the goodness in people she met.” Despite any criticism she faced, Zhao’s resilience and hard work enabled her to succeed, and her words of wisdom have inspired underrepresented groups to persist in following their dreams because any goal is attainable.This is for anyone who has the faith and courage to hold onto the goodness in themselves,” Zhao said.